As Six Flags Great Adventure opens its newest ride this season, Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth, company officials had an even more ambitious announcement Wednesday: The ride, and all 53 rides there as well as the water park, will now be powered by the sun.
The company announced a 23.5-megawatt solar project, with 60,000 panels, that will power almost all park operations this year and be the largest “net metered” solar project in New Jersey. Net metered means a solar installation can return power to the electric grid when panels produce more than needed.
Six Flags says Great Adventure, in Jackson, N.J., is now one of the world’s first solar-powered theme parks, and its solar capacity is second in size only to Walt Disney World in Florida. Recently, Disney unveiled a 50-megawatt solar farm to power two of its parks.
Six Flags officials said the project is in keeping with a conservation plan that includes recycling 60 percent of its annual waste. That includes animal waste, which goes to local farms.
The project was built and installed by KDC Solar. The Bedminster, N.J., company owns the equipment and has an agreement to sell electricity back to the park at a much lower rate than it had been paying the local utility company, according to officials.
“We started this process over a decade ago,” said John Winkler, president of Six Flags Great Adventure. Winkler said it took several years to figure out an approach and then find a contractor. The company picked KDC Solar because it is a large solar contractor within the state and had the experience needed.
The installation took 16 months and used 99,000 hours of union labor, the company said.
Winkler said the solar arrays are installed over four zones that include three parking areas and a field adjoining the park. Great Adventure officials and KDC are testing the power zone by zone. They expect all zones to be fully powered by solar within a week or two.
“This is a thrilling day for our company," Winkler said. "This project represents a giant step toward becoming a net-zero carbon facility.”
Alan Epstein, president and CEO of KDC, said the installation will serve 97 percent of the park’s power needs.
Park officials plan to keep installing more energy-efficient equipment with the goal to produce excess electricity that can flow into the grid for use by other customers. Officials are working with Jersey Central Power & Light, owned by FirstEnergy Corp.
In all, 23.5 megawatts is the equivalent of power for 4,000 homes. As of now, the solar installation will produce more power than it needs during the day, and will have to withdraw power from the grid at night.
Great Adventure had a rocky start to the project when it ran afoul of environmentalists with plans to clear-cut 100 acres of forest for the solar array. The issue ended with a compromise to clear 40 acres. The rest of the installation was put on canopies over parking areas.
Jeff Tittel, president of the New Jersey Sierra Club, praised the agreement.
“Six Flags will get a solar farm while we get to preserve forested lands," Tittel said Wednesday. “Everyone wins today.”
The settlement also calls for Great Adventure to create dens for endangered northern pine snakes that might have been disturbed by the work. The company also included a $25,000 endowment to monitor a conservation easement on the forested land.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the work produced good jobs for organized labor. In reference to global warming due in large part to fossil fuel use, the Democrat said the project shows that “the world is changing and we need to change with it."