Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro – After years spent touting its latest roller coasters and safari revamps, Six Flags Great Adventure has a new claim to fame: one of the world’s first solar-powered amusement parks.

The Jackson tourist destination is now almost entirely powered by a massive new collection of nearly 60,000 solar panels spans parking lots and 40 acres of previously unused land.

The panels, which cost more than $70 million to construct and were publicly unveiled Wednesday, soak up sunlight, convert it to 23.5 megawatts of electricity and provide 98% of the power needed to keep the sprawling theme park running. Whatever is not used is sent back to the grid.

The solar farm, built by KDC Solar, is now the largest net-metered solar array in the state (net-metered means the solar arrays send extra electricity back into the larger power grid).

“This project represents a giant step toward becoming a net-zero carbon facility,” said Six Flags Great Adventure Park President John Winkler.

State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the head of the state Senate’s environment committee, praised the park’s switch to solar as a model that should be replicated statewide.

“We should be doing one of these every week in New Jersey,” Smith said.

Construction on the solar array began in early 2018, after a long legal battle over the clear-cutting of forests required for the project.

The project originally called for 100 acres of forests to be removed to make room for a solar farm near the park’s safari attraction. Environmental groups challenge that plan, arguing that it altered too much of the natural landscape. Forty acres of trees were ultimately cut to accommodate about half the panels used for the entire project.

“Six flags will get a solar farm while we get to preserve forested lands, everyone wins today,” said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club Director. “New Jersey could have the first amusement park in the country powered by solar power.”

The remaining panels were placed over more than 2,000 parking spots in the Hurricane Harbor, employee and overflow parking areas.

The main parking lots remain uncovered; Six Flags Great Adventure Spokeswoman Kristin Fitzgerald said the park wanted to be able to continue using those lots to host future events.

Winkler wouldn’t say how much money the park expects to save on its electric bill with the new solar array. But Alan Epstein, the president of KDC Solar, said that savings could be very substantial.

“They use 30 million kilowatts a year,” Epstein said. “Even if they were saving a penny (per kilowatt hour), we’re talking real money here.”

Epstein said that the new solar array will offset 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s about equal to the emissions of 53 million miles driven by cars, according to Epstein.

Great Adventure’s flip to solar comes as Gov. Phil Murphy is pushing for a clean energy future in New Jersey to try and reduce the impact of climate change.

Murphy, a Democrat, campaigned on a vision of New Jersey getting 100% of its power from clean sources by 2050, a target he made official by signing Executive Order 28 last year. On Monday, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities released a draft of the state’s 2019 Energy Master Plan — a document billed by the Murphy administration as the “initial blueprint” to achieving that goal.

The plan calls for massive development of wind and solar power, improved resiliency for New Jersey’s power grid, an orchestrated push to boost electric vehicle use, new standards to make buildings more energy efficient and new jobs programs to build a workforce to support it all.

“The strategies set forth in this draft plan will foster economic growth by creating thousands of jobs in New Jersey’s energy, building, and transportation sectors,” Murphy said when the draft master plan was released.

The plan defines clean energy as “as carbon-neutral electricity generation and maximum electrification of the transportation and building sectors to meet or exceed the Global Warming Response Act greenhouse emissions reductions of 80 percent relative to 2006 levels by 2050.”

Using carbon-neutral as the standard rather than carbon-free allows for options like nuclear power plants and incinerators to be part of the Garden State’s future. It could also allow for the long-term use of natural gas — an energy source often pitched as a bridge between coal and renewables — if those gas-powered plants utilize carbon sequestration technology to offset carbon emissions.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he was glad to see that the plan included room for the possible expansion of nuclear energy and natural gas in the state.

“You’re going to need natural gas, still. I appreciate that the Governor recognizes that,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said. “Alternative energy is expensive, because the technology is relatively new to us.”

But some environmentalists have already begun criticizing the plan for the carbon-neutral standard.

“Gov. Murphy’s Energy Master Plan is not a road map for 100% clean energy, but rather a plan to keep New Jersey hooked on dirty energy from fossil fuels and nuclear power,” said Matt Smith, a senior organizer for Food & Water Watch.

Public comment on the master plan proposal is being accepted by the NJBPU through September 16. In the meantime, three public hearings on the plan are currently scheduled: July 17 in Trenton, August 8 in Newark and September 12 in Camden.

District Offices

Gloucester County

Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752

Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808 or
             (856) 455-1011
Fax: (856) 339-9626