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Sun Powered

New solar installation helps Benjamin Moore's R&D facility grow more energy independent.

December typically is more about endings than beginnings. For Benjamin Moore & Co., however, the opposite was true as 2010 drew to a close. In December, the paint manufacturer began powering its Flanders, N.J., research-and-development facility with the aid of 8,600 crystalline photovoltaic solar panels. It is the Montvale, N.J., firm's first -- but likely not last -- commitment to renewable energy as a power generation source.

"We believe in renewable energy as a principle under our environmental policy and philosophy," says Kip Cleverley, director of environment, health, safety and product stewardship for the company. That commitment is part of the corporation's larger dedication to sustainability in the resources it consumes and the products it produces.

Benjamin Moore selected the Flanders site as its first foray into renewable energy for several reasons: an energy audit revealed that the R&D facility was among the higher users of electricity among Benjamin Moore's sites; the location had sufficient land available for a solar installation; and the site is where Benjamin Moore's "greenest" paint was developed.

The 1.7-megawatt solar power system at Benjamin Moore's research-and-development center is expected to generate 68% of the location's electricity needs. Photo:Newscast/Mark Dye

The solar-powered system in Flanders is expected to generate about 68% of the electricity needs for Benjamin Moore's 80,000-square-foot product development center and testing laboratories. Beyond that, the company aims to find additional means of energy conservation, chipping away at the 30% or so of electricity that is generated by traditional means.

Success in that endeavor would allow the location not only to produce nearly all of the electricity it consumes, but also would make the Flanders site one of the first net zero facilities of its types in the country, Cleverley says. (By the way, Cleverley says there is no difference in the quality of the energy created by the solar array and that provided by the grid.)

Constellation Energy Partners in the Project

Constellation Energy is Benjamin Moore's partner in the solar-powered system. Including sites already in operation or under construction, Constellation Energy's retail business (which addresses commercial, industrial and government sites) manages about 44 megawatts of solar power in seven states at 25 customer sites.

For Benjamin Moore, Constellation Energy built, owns and will maintain the 1.7 megawatt system for the duration of a 20-year solar power purchase agreement. In addition to receiving a long-term fixed price for the electricity generated by the solar array, the on-site installation allows Benjamin Moore to avoid a distribution charge, according to Michael Smith, senior vice president of green initiatives for Constellation Energy's retail business. Benjamin Moore provided the land for the solar panels.

Installation Had its Challenges

The installation was not without its challenges. During the permitting process for the solar field, the paint manufacturer learned that its location in the New Jersey Highlands region required the solar installation to meet requirements of the state's Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act. Restrictions related to "impervious cover" could have halted the project.

Instead, Benjamin Moore says it pulled together a public-private partnership that included the manufacturer, the state of New Jersey and its environmental protection department, and several local governments. "We sat down to understand what the issues were, and we came up with a mutual understanding of what would allow us to move forward," Cleverley says.

Ultimately, an amendment to the act allowed the project to proceed. The amendment also benefits other companies that want to install solar in the Highlands and face similar permitting requirements, Benjamin Moore noted.

Band of Renewable-Energy Supporters

The challenge drove several other positive outcomes as well, Cleverley says, including transforming members of the partnership into a band of supporters of renewable energy. Indeed, he said part of the challenge in meeting the act's requirements initially was simply the result of the relative youth of renewable energies. "It takes all of us to move forward with renewable energy. It's new," he says. "That was one of the big learnings for me. It's not just the installation of a solar array. You really need to bring all of the parties together to make that bigger picture work."

Constellation Energy and Benjamin Moore also amended the installation's design. It shifted more than 1,500 photovoltaic panels from a ground-mounted system in an open field on the property to the facility's parking lot, preserving additional open space. The elevated structure on which the panels were mounted created a "roof like" environment over the lot. "It also gave us an opportunity to show everyone who comes into the facility our commitment to [solar] because it's right there. You have to park underneath it," Cleverley says.

In addition, Benjamin Moore put in parking places that have charging stations for electric cars. Benjamin Moore anticipates that its headquarters will have a similar solar array in operation in early 2012, as well as recharging stations for electric cars.

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