PSE&G Solar Systems Took Big Hit From Hurricane Sandy

Utility files with BPU, citing extensive damage from floods, winds, and lightning

Hurricane Sandy damaged huge portions of the traditional power grid, but it also wreaked havoc on some of the installations of New Jersey’s largest solar developer.

In a filing with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, Public Service Electric & Gas said its solar installations suffered more than $3 million worth of damage, primarily from storm surges that flooded ground-mounted solar systems, as well as wind and lightning taking their toll on rooftop arrays.

The petition, an update required annually by the agency, is not specifically focused on the storm. Instead, it seeks approval to collect from $111 million from its electric customers from October 2013 to September 2014 and another $19 million from its gas customers for a variety of green energy programs. The filing details how expenditures in the program will be spent, all of which have been previously approved by the BPU.

The programs include energy efficiency efforts for both residential and commercial customers; an initiative to reduce energy use by large industrial customers; and extensions of various strategies to promote development of new solar systems, among other green initiatives.

The utility said the programs would not increase customers’ bills, instead cutting electric rates by about 16 cents a year and gas rates by 32 cents annually because of the drop in revenues collected from ratepayers for the initiatives.

In the filing, utility executives also detailed the damage to its solar installations from the superstorm, noting that five of its solar plants sustained significant damage from the event, according to Terry Moran, director of market strategy and development for PSE&G.

The sites included Linden, Bayonne, and Raritan Center, all of which suffered damage from storm surges, which flooded the facilities and harmed equipment crucial to generating solar electricity.

In addition, at PSE&G’s Mill Creek central division headquarters, a rooftop solar array sustained damage due to high winds, which dislodged panels, as well as a lightning strike, according to Moran.

All but one of the facilities have been restored, according to the utility.

The utility also said that 300 panels mounted on utility poles were trashed when the poles were felled during the storm. None of the panels mounted on poles were blown off during the storm, according to PSE&G’s filing. Approximately 150,000 solar panels have been installed on utility poles as of this past March.

PSE&G said the solar systems are insured by Lloyds of London, adding that it expects to receive nearly $3 million in insurance payments to cover the damage.

New Jersey has been aggressively promoting the development of solar energy, ranking among the top three states in the nation producing electricity from the systems. PSE&G has embraced the goal in May, winning approval from the BPU to spend nearly a half-billion dollars to build new solar systems on landfills and brownfields, as well as residences and other structures.

The damage from Hurricane Sandy to the solar panels is a fraction of the cost the utility racked up during the storm. In a separate filing with the regulatory agency, PSE&G is seeking to spend $3.9 billion to harden its power grid to make it more resilient in the event of future extreme weather.

A big chunk of that money would be spent on raising, installing flood barriers, and taking other measures to protect the 31 switching and substations flooded out during Sandy at a projected cost of $1.7 billion. The filing has yet to be acted on by the BPU.

In the aftermath of Sandy, some clean energy advocates suggested installing more solar systems in New Jersey might make the state more resilient if more extreme weather occurs.