Princeton University plans to install a 5.3-megawatt solar collector field comprising 16,500 photovoltaic panels on 27 acres it owns near the much-debated Dinky train station. The array is expected to generate 8 million kilowatt-hours per year — enough to power the equivalent of 700 homes or, at Princeton, enough to meet 5.5 percent of total campus electrical needs.

The project will be built between NJ Transit’s Dinky train line, the Delaware & Raritan Canal, Washington Road, and Route 1. The area surrounding the Dinky line has been mired in controversy about what to do with the station on University Place since the university announced plans to build a projected $300 million arts and transit neighborhood there. The fight over what to do with the station itself (the university wants it moved 460 back toward Princeton Junction while Princeton Borough and Township officials have expressed a desire to keep it in place) triggered a recent announcement by the university that it would abandon its plans to build the arts and transit neighborhood near McCarter Theater.

The school has softened its position some since the announcement. In a meeting on February 4, university officials told Princeton Borough and Township officials that they would be willing to discuss plans to keep the arts village project centered around the Dinky station area. The university had previously stated that it would continue developing its arts village plans, only for a different location.

The solar project, though, seems far less controversial. According to the school, a row of trees along Washington Road will block most of the site from view, and new landscaping will screen the site from the road, lake, and canal towpath.

According to the university, 80 percent of the system will be composed of SunPower T0 Trackers, which use a global positioning system to track the sun’s path. The rest of the system will use fixed panels at a tilt of 25 degrees. SunPower, a solar technology company with offices in Trenton, will design and build the system.

Construction on the system — expected to be one of the largest single installations at an American college — could begin by summer and be completed in a year.

According to the school, the system will be funded and owned by Key Equipment Finance of Colorado, which will lease the system to Princeton.

The new system will join two existing ones for Princeton. In 2009 the university installed a 5,000-panel array on the roof of the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium on the Forrestal Campus and a 216-panel array on the Frick Chemistry Laboratory on the main campus.

#b#Princeton University#/b#, 1 Nassau Hall, Princeton 08544; 609-258-3000; fax, 609-258-1294. Shirley M. Tilghman, president.

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