Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania has gone solar and is now powered by a 3
MW European designed solar farm—with some unique
features—that supplies the raceway with the power it needs
and feeds additional power into the grid.
words “NASCAR” and “green”
aren’t normally used in the
same sentence. But that might be changing, especially with the
the 3-megawatt solar farm at the Pocono Raceway, in Pennsylvania.
Igdalsky, president of the raceway—home of the Pocono 500 and
races—was interested in powering the facility with a
photovoltaic (PV) power
plant. After discussions with project developer enXco, they decided to
with the project in 2009.
Inc. was selected by enXco in 2010 to design and build the plant.
although relatively new to the U.S., came with years of experience in
industry. Its parent company, Beck Energy, has built over 400 megawatts
of utility-style solar farms throughout Europe.
sits on approximately 25 acres and consists of nearly 40,000
modules. It was built on land formerly used for parking lots that are
needed due to a reconfiguration of other parking lots on raceway
CEO and chairman of the board of the Pocono Raceway, reportedly
all the materials in the solar project be American-made, so the solar
came from Ohio, the wood from
Oregon, and the steel from California.
plant was not only unique in that it would probably be the largest
privately-built solar farm in the U.S., but its design was also
Despite its unique aspects, construction was phenomenally fast.
started in May 2010 and was completed by the end of July 2010, with
Taggart, president and COO of Belectric, was pleased at the pace.
other project, we had to get all the permits to build, and that can
take a long time. But we did this in record time.”
gives credit for the quick permitting to his experienced design team.
know what the permitting agencies expect. And we put together a pretty
power plant design isn’t common knowledge, the team was also
prepared for the
questions that typically arise. “It also helped that the
Building Department was easy to work with,” adds Taggart.
solar farm posed certain challenges right from the start.
property wasn’t ideal. “This particular piece
wasn’t oriented very well for a
PV power plant. That’s why the arrays were laid out the way
they were,” says
Taggart. “In this case, we need the arrays facing due south
point where the solar farm hooked up to the grid was toward the
“end of the
line”, which meant the voltage was low compared to where
large power generation
this, Belectric added “power factor control”.
Taggart says in doing so they
were able to boost the voltage at their part of the grid to stabilize
accept all the power generated by the plant, without expensive upgrades
grid at that location. “That has never been done before in a
private PV plant.
It meant a little more work on our part, but it worked well.”
to this design is that it is a high voltage system and runs at 900
PV power plants in the U.S. run at 600 volts. By using the higher
system, Belectric was able to save a lot of system costs.
quite a bit safer when combined with another unique feature—a
power plant,” says Taggart.
floating ground power plant
differs in the way energy is collected in the power
plant. Going with a floating ground design gave Belectric more freedom
selecting and installing components.
The majority of work on
the solar power project was performed by Belectric employees and
union sub-contractors. But because the local community has been
particularly hard hit by the economic downturn, Belectric also chose to
hire a range of local laborers and construction personnel.
high voltage and floating ground power plant are fairly
standard in Europe but new to the U.S. That required Belectric to
Pocono power plant so the new features were compliant with the U.S.
“Quite a challenge!” says Taggart.
may have its roots in Europe, but the hardware for the power plant was
in the U.S. Modules were purchased from First Solar, and all structural
components were purchased in the U.S. as well. Nothing was imported.
chose Satcon PowerGate Plus inverters for the project.
a good fit between our system design and the capabilities of
inverter,” says Taggart. The PowerGate Plus
inverters maximize system
uptime and power production, even in cloudy
conditions. In addition,
all the components are encased in a single,
making the inverters easy to install, operate, and maintain.
of the work was performed by Belectric employees and union
Because the local community had been particularly hard hit by the
Belectric chose to hire a range of local laborers and construction
Belectric employees trained them on the nuances of module installation
The 3 MW
power plant creates enough energy for the raceway, the nearby vacation
with condominiums, recreational areas, and a golf course, as well as an
additional 1,000 homes in the local community.
the raceway doesn’t need goes to the grid,” says
Taggart. “It’s a net metering
program. So they are almost always getting paid for energy coming from
power plant.” This income should allow the investors to pay
off the project in
approximately five years.
One of the
reasons Belectric has been able to complete projects so quickly and
economically is, in part, how they build their power plants.
only product. For that reason, we have geared the company kind of like
factory,” says Taggart.
the process to building cars—a number of sequential
operations performed down
the line, with the car moving through the factory until it is
difference at Belectric is that we take the factory to the
Taggart. “And because we’re efficient and have
broken down building the plants
into sequential operations, we can go through a project very
efficiency, the same team works together going from project to project.
one time, Belectric will have teams working on two, three, or four
projects around the country. Taggart calls them the “the
nomads of the PV
these employees have families, so Belectric rotates them much like the
military. They are never away from home for more than six weeks at a
when they come home, it’s for an extended “on
employees must learn every job on
the project, regardless of the role they were hired for.
seen any other companies that operate this way in the U.S.,”
says Taggart. “That’s
how they operate in Europe, and we think it honors the construction
work ethic while striking a balance with family, so we took
operational approach and modified it for the realities of the North
raceway, located in the Northeast, had one last challenge. It
wasn’t in an area
known for its sun. Taggart says that was fine with them. The Southwest
premium solar crop, and companies get the most yield for their
there, but the Northeast has stronger incentives. Perhaps more
Belectric’s technology is ideal for the climate.
design our plant and the modules we employ are optimized for a
project. In this case, the thin film modules are very efficient at
power in the typical Northeast environment, where there is a lot of
light given the cloudy days and very hot, high humidity air in the
actually have a very good yield from your farm if the technology is
for the area, often outperforming other more established
project is generating plenty of interest and, at one point, there was
President Barack Obama coming by for the opening ceremony.
been kind of a sleeper project in that there wasn’t a lot of
hype leading up to
it,” says Taggart. “Some companies
run ads and get articles out before anything
actually happens. We don’t believe in doing that. We stay
very busy just
working directly with people. We don’t advertise.”
The Pocono Raceway solar
project sits on approximately 25 acres and consists of nearly 40,000
photovoltaic modules. It was built on land formerly used for parking.
lets the price tag speak for itself. Of the
estimated $16 million cost of the project, Belectric’s piece
was a relatively
small portion of it.
build a power plant for an overall price that really makes the
in the United States—particularly in the Northeast and the
Taggart. “We’ve done a lot of projects, and we know
what every nut and washer
and bolt will cost. When we give a price, we know we can do
One of the
ways Belectric keeps the plants affordable is by building
“spec” power plants.
of this is a PV power plant similar to the one in Pocono, being built
Sacramento, California. This plant will be 30 megawatts—10
times the size of
the raceway project. The project, however, is 100 percent
start to finish.
the power plants to sell,” says Taggart. “The
reason we do that is because, if
we’re a factory and our product is a PV powerplant, we need
to get the volume
of the factory to be pretty uniform to maximize efficiencies.
we can be doing projects for other people, and if we have a slow month,
we have some bad weather in another part of the country where we
can’t work, we
can put the guys on our own projects and keep the volume pretty
these power plants attractive because the risk has been removed. The
already generating power, and the price the utility will pay has
the lifetime of the power plant, and you can easily figure out what the
should be,” adds Taggart.
the company’s experience in Europe, their factory model and
ability to keep
costs down, Belectric sees itself being in the industry for years to
see companies buying each other to
position themselves to best survive the next
several years of growth in the industry, because it’s going
to be really
tough,” says Taggart. “Companies that
can’t get their costs down won’t survive.
We’re really fortunate that we’ve been able to work
with the German organization
to start off on a really low-cost footing, while staying focused on
best at what we do: converting fuel from the sun into electricity that