Making ice with the sun: Solar project unveiled at Mennen Arena in Morris Township

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UP ON THE ROOF: Reynold Fauci, recreation director of the Morris County Park Commission, atop Mennen Arena. Soon, all three ice rinks will be covered with solar panels. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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It sounds so counter-intuitive: Harnessing blazing sunlight to make sheets of ice.

But it makes perfect sense to the folks who run Mennen Arena in Morris Township. They couldn’t be happier to be the showcase location for a $22.3 million project to install solar panels at 19 schools and public buildings across Morris County.

“I am very excited. I’m just hoping it really works,” Reynold Fauci, recreation director for the Morris County Park Commission, said after a sweltering outdoor ceremony at the arena.

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UP ON THE ROOF: Reynold Fauci, recreation director of the Morris County Park Commission, atop Mennen Arena. Soon, all three ice rinks will be covered with solar panels. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

He showed reporters new roofs of the three county-operated ice rinks at Mennen; by late summer, the roofs and parking lot should be blanketed with solar panels–6,800 of them, to be exact.

“I’m over-excited,” said Dave Helmer, executive director of the Park Commission. He’s hoping the solar arrays will cut energy expenses at the rinks by about 30 percent–and increase the arena’s green cachet to attract corporate events. Hockey, skating events, circuses, indoor football, concerts and graduations already draw nearly a million annual visitors to the facility, on 39 acres that once hosted polo matches and a Little League World Series.

The solar project is being funded via a complex system of bonds and tax credits that ultimately should produce savings for taxpayers, said county Freeholder Director Gene Feyl.

The installations will be performed by Tioga Energy of California and SunDurance Energy of New Jersey.

New Jersey has 6,000 solar installations, trailing only California, said Todd Martin of SunDurance.

Tioga Vice President Randy Corey said the solar panels going up at Mennen are designed to withstand hailstorms and sustained winds of 90 mph. They can convert about 15.5 percent of the sunlight striking their surfaces into electricity, he said. As the technology evolves, panels should become more efficient, he said.

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An aerial depiction of planned solar arrays for rooftops and parking lot of Mennen Arena in Morris Township. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Elevated panels will cover about half of the arena’s 1,000 parking spaces, said Reynold Fauci. Only five spaces will be lost for parking purposes, he said.

When everything is up and running–perhaps by early fall–arena patrons may notice a slight hum from electrical converters, Randy said.

Solar arrays should be completed at the other facilities in this project within a year, according to county Administrator John Bonanni. The county is soliciting requests from towns and schools that want to be included in the next round of solar installations. Participants must guarantee that their structures’ roofs are good for the next 15 years, Gene Feyl said.

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Officials gather around solar panel outside Mennen Arena, a Morris County facility that soon will be the showcase for a $22.3 million solar energy project. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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David Helmer, left, executive director of the Morris County Park Commission, and Wallace Chang, the commission's energy program manager, with picture of planner solar project at Mennen Arena in Morris Township. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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