The Public Service Electric and Gas Co. received approval from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Wednesday to spend $515 million to install 80 megawatts of solar.

The plan is to install 40 megawatts of solar energy systems on 200,000 utility poles, and another 40 megawatts of ground-mounted and rooftop solar energy systems, PSE&G said.

PSE&G, the largest utility in the state, is hiring Petra Solar to carry out the $200 million project to outfit utility and streetlight poles with solar. Each installation would make use of a 200-watt panel and send electricity to the grid.

Petra, based in South Plainfield, N.J., is a microinverter maker that has designed a solar energy system using panels that likely are coming from Suntech Power, according to GTM Research analyst Eric Wesoff. The company also just won a grant worth up to $2.9 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for working with the University of Central Florida on integrating solar energy with the grid.

The utility's program, which it calls "Solar 4 All," would double the amount of solar power generation in the state, PSE&G said. The utility expects the installations to be completed by 2013.

PSE&G joins a growing number of utilities that want to own and operate solar energy projects. A federal law that went into effect in January this year allows utilities to take advantage of the 30 percent investment tax credit, which was previously available for independent power producers.

Until this year, utilities across the country largely turned to independent power producers, some of whom are companies that also manufacture solar power equipment.

States with more aggressive renewable energy goals, such as California, have seen their utilities signing contracts worth hundreds of megawatts each. California's two largest utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, also are developing their own projects.

For the 40 megawatts of ground-mounted and rooftop projects, PSE&G plans to install 25 megawatts of them on properties it owns, the utility said. PSE&G serves 1.7 million gas customers and 2.1 million electric customers.

Another 10 megawatts would be placed on other locations determined by developers hired by PSE&G. The last 5 megawatts would be erected in cities that contain New Jersey Urban Enterprise Zones.

Each installation for the 40-megawatt plan would have at least 500 kilowatts of generation capacity. The types of technologies used for these projects would depend on what developers propose in their bids, said Lee Gray, a PSE&G spokesman.

The "Solar 4 All" program overall would cost PSE&G customers about $0.10 per month during its first year, the utility said.  

Image courtesy Public Service Electric and Gas Co.