A business’ success is linked to the success of its community, its growth, and to job creation, says #b#Ralph LaRossa#/b#, president and COO of PSE&G. The state’s oldest and largest provider of gas and electric service, PSE&G provides service to more than 1.7 million gas customers and 2.1 million electric customers in more than 300 municipalities around the state.

LaRossa will speak on “Moving New Jersey’s Economy Forward,” at the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, February 17, at 11:30 a.m. at the Greenacres Country Club in Lawrenceville. Cost: $60. He will discuss New Jersey’s economic development programs, especially those in central New Jersey, and how chambers of commerce and businesses can get involved. Visit www.mercerchamber.org.

LaRossa was named president and chief operating officer of PSE&G in 2006. “Unlike a lot of people in my area, I came up through the operations side of the business,” he says. He was born in Jersey City and grew up in Rutherford. He began working with the utility company while attending the Stevens Institute of Technology. “I saw they had openings for jobs at PSE&G and I’d always wanted to know what those people in the white cars did,” he says.

He joined the company in 1985 as an associate engineer and advanced through a variety of management positions in the utility’s gas and electric operations.

While PSE&G is always interested in working with communities and other industries to promote growth, LaRossa says it is particularly important right now, as we begin to see the economy turn around. “More business means more jobs and more jobs mean more residents who need services,” he says.

#b#Supporting NJ’s energy policies#/b#. PSE&G has a long-standing policy of helping the environment and supporting New Jersey’s energy policy goals, including supporting programs for renewable energy and for energy efficiency, LaRossa says. The company has invested $750 million in two programs designed to help increase the amount of solar capacity in the state: Solar 4 All and the Solar Loan Program.

The Solar Loan Program removes the financial barriers that prevented many home and business owners from installing solar power systems. Solar 4 All is a $415 million program that oversees the installation of grid-connected solar power for the benefit of all PSE&G electric customers. The program, says LaRossa, allows all electric customers to benefit from grid-connected solar power while creating a healthier environment through carbon-free power generation. The program also makes New Jersey second only to California in solar energy installation, while also helping to create new jobs.

The Neighborhood Solar program, for instance, which is one part of the Solar 4 All initiative, is just one of the energy-efficiency programs that have provided economic growth. Through the program PSE&G has installed 200,000 “smart solar panels” on utility poles throughout the state. The panels are a “creative way to use pole space for renewable energy,” says LaRossa. Each panel provides about 200 watts of power locally.

“We’re working with companies such as Petra Solar in South Plainfield, which is creating the solar panels. The work is invigorating the company and allowing it to hire a large number of new employees,” says LaRossa. Putting solar panels on utility poles is “a great use of existing assets,” LaRossa says. Programs like Neighborhood Solar also give PSE&G the opportunity to earn a regulated return on investment for solar installations.

#b#From brownfield to solar farm#/b#. The company’s solar farm program is another way PSE&G has found to support economic growth as well as the environment. The company has developed four solar farms, in Linden, Silver Lake, Yardville, and Trenton. All but Yardville are built on remediated brownfield sites.

“These sites promote economic development in several ways,” says LaRossa. “Land that was unused and was costing the taxpayers money is now being put to a good use. And we sell the energy produced by the farms back to the grid.”

It costs six to ten times more to produce solar energy versus traditional energy sources such as nuclear and coal. But government subsidies are making it more affordable for companies such as PSE&G to develop the infrastructure needed to make solar energy more cost-effective. “It is much like comparing them to the cost of silicon chips when they first came into use. As more becomes available we are already seeing the costs come down,” LaRossa says.

#b#Energy-efficient fleet#/b#. The business of producing gas and electricity for millions of customers requires a large fleet of vehicles and equipment; that means that it is also important for PSE&G to be efficient in its consumption of gasoline, both for cost savings and for good environmental practices.

“We are constantly working to improve our gas economy,” says LaRossa. “Last year we improved by one to two tenths of a gallon by moving to hybrid vehicles, by using bio-diesel fuels, and by right-sizing our equipment. A few tenths of a gallon may not sound like a lot, but when it is multiplied by 5,000 it is an important savings.”

Every business, no matter what the product or service, can support economic development in the state. “The big thing I think we need to do in New Jersey is to stop beating ourselves up,” says LaRossa. “The best way to promote economic development in the state is to quit saying, ‘Woe is me’ and look at everything we have going for us.”

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