The Great Solar Panel Rip-off: Part 5

dsc_0002-1In the final part of the series we will take the information that has been laid out on the science of solar cells, the technical specifications of the project and combine that with the information we have on the two major players in the Telephone Pole Solar Cell project, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula and Petra Solar Founder Shihab Kuran. From this we will draw some conclusions but also raise a few questions that need some answers.

The PSE&G’s Solar 4 AllTM Program is a project designed to add 80 megawatts of electrical generation to the power portfolio that PSE&G currently has.  PSE&G even claims that this project will generate enough electricity to power 13,000 average New Jersey Homes.  Of the 80 megawatts, 40 megawatts are to come from the Telephone Pole Solar Panels portion of the project.  The only problem is that the projections for the Telephone Pole portion (and the central system too) of the project is a sham.  No other form of power generation (coal, gas, oil or nuclear) would ever be calculated in the same way as this project.

The backbone of PSE&G’s electrical generation inventory is PSEG Power LLC.  This operational portion of the company includes the Nuclear and Fossil fueled generating plants that PSE&G owns.  If you go to the site you will find plant generating outputs like these:

The Hudson Generating Station

Location: Jersey City, NJ

MW: 930

Fuel: Coal, Gas, Oil

Technology: Steam

Commercial Operation: 1964, 1968

Market: Load Following


The Mercer Generating Station

Location: Hamilton Township, NJ

MW: 747

Fuel: Coal, Gas, Distillate Oil Technology:

Steam and Combustion Turbines

Commercial Operation: First Unit: 1960, Second Unit: 1961, Third Unit: 1967

Market: Load Following Peaking

I have picked these two plants since they are representative of the type of plants that PSE&G owns and I will be using them in another example later in this article.

The Hudson plant is rated at 930 megawatts and the Mercer plant is rated at 747 megawatts.  These plants can deliver their stated output 24 hours a day, day after day.  In fact, it is very rare for either of these plants not to be running at maximum output since they can produce electricity at the second cheapest method today (nuclear is the cheapest).

Now how does the operation of these plants compare to the way the solar panel project was calculated?  Simple, the Telephone Pole Solar Panel project cannot, at anytime put 40 megawatts into the electrical grid in New Jersey.  As the calculation in part 1 of the series showed, the calculated output of the completed project was a push even if the system included panels made from extremely expensive rare earth elements.  I then explained how the installation of the panels on the poles would only be at an optimized position relative to the sun for a very short period of time each day.  Finally I asked you to make your own observation on how these panels are oriented in all different positions relative to due south.  When all is said and done I believe that instead of being able to deliver 40 megawatts at any one given time, this project would have a hard time delivering 10 megawatts for a few hours a day at best.  Unlike the Hudson and Mercer generating plants that can and do deliver their rated capacity, the Telephone Pole Solar Panel project can never deliver its advertised output.  The method used to size this project amounts to fraud; plain and simple.  But, it is even worse when you hear what it actually costs to generate a megawatt of power from these panels.

The Hudson and Mercer generation plants are both around 50 years old.  It would not be fair to use the construction costs that PSE&G paid when they were built, but I do know of a project to build a coal fired plant of about the same capacity of these facilities and this the new Duke Power Cliffside Plant located on the Rutherford/Cleveland County line in North Carolina.

Here are the two most important specifications for the Cliffside Plant Unit 6:

825 Megawatts

$1.8 billion estimated cost of construction

Using these numbers we can make a few comparisons to the Telephone Pole Solar Panel project.

Dividing 825 megawatts into $1.8 billion would give us a cost of construction for a megawatt of power from Unit 6 to be $2,181,818.  Dividing 40 megawatts into $264 million, the contract price of the panels without installation costs, would give us a cost to construct a megawatt of power of $6,600,000.  This is more than 3 times the amount of capital investment.  But this amount is based on the Telephone Pole Solar Panel project actually being able to deliver 40 megawatts at any given time.  If my estimate of a maximum output of 10 megawatts, under ideal conditions the construction cost of a megawatt of power would be $26,400,000 for this project!

We can have even more fun with the numbers.  What if someone came up with the idea of replacing the output of the Mercer Generating Plant, a plant that is located only 3 miles from Trenton with Telephone Pole Solar Panels?  The calculation is simple, but the result is enough to make you sick.  The current capacity of the Mercer Plant is 747 megawatts.  If we multiple 747 by the $26,400,000 cost to install a megawatt of solar power from the Telephone Pole project we get a cost of - $19,720,800,000! This amount of money is two-thirds of the amount of the whole New Jersey State budget for one year!  And remember, this project would only generate those 747 megawatts for a few hours a day, when it was sunny, under ideal conditions.  Plus, you would still have to keep the Mercer Plant open since people still like to have lights at night and when the sun is not out.  I told you, it is enough to make you sick!

Let us now turn our attention to the two major players in the Telephone Pole Solar Panel project, New Jersey Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula and Petra Solar Founder Dr. Shihab Kuran.

As I pointed out in part 3, Upendra Chivukula has been the driving force behind “Green” energy projects in New Jersey, with a special emphasis on Telephone Pole Solar Panels.  At the same time, Shihab Kuran’s company has benefited by being awarded over a half a billion dollars worth of contracts from PSE&G for solar projects.  A question one might ask is, “could there be more here than meets the eye”?

There is a quote that many people use when they leave college and that is, “it’s not what you know but who you know that counts in life”.  It that is so, we have a connection between Chivukula and Kuran which would be the fact that each obtained graduate degrees in Electrical Engineering from the City University of New York.  The City University has one of the smaller engineering schools in the country and the number of graduate students would be equally small.  The total enrollment of graduate students at the school now is 700, and that is for all disciplines.  Even if they went to the school at different times, is it just coincidence that the person who wrote the laws and the person who reaped the most from those bills both went to the same school?

Looking at the time lines for each of these men some more coincidences appear in each of Chivukula’s assembly terms.


Chivukula introduces bills to require BPU to offer fiscal incentives for photovoltaic equipment and adopt renewable energy credits rules.

Kuran leaves vice-president’s job at Fairchild Semiconductor in Maine and starts Petra Solar in Green Brook, NJ.  None of his previous employers had anything to do with Solar Panels or photovoltaic equipment.

Chivukula introduces bills to require BPU incentives for photovoltaic equipment, solar generation farms and zoning variances for photovoltaic technologies.

Kuran incorporates Petra Solar.

2008 - 2009

Chivukula introduces bills requiring BPU financial incentives for photovoltaic equipment, requires BPU to use Retail Margin Fund monies for renewable energy, solar energy generation farms, smart grid, “inherently beneficial use” for purposes of zoning variance for photovoltaic technologies and “The Solar Energy Advancement and Fair Competition Act”.

Kuran makes South Plainfield the home of Petra Solar.  BPU approves a contract between PSE&G and Petra Solar for over $500,000 million.  Petra Solar obtains $3.3 million in grants from New Jersey.

2010 - 2011

Chivukula introduces bills limiting utilities from cost recovery unless compatible with smart grid system, “Solar Roof Installation Warranty Program”, exempting Solar panels from impervious surface cover designation, prohibits municipal zoning ordinances from regulating solar panels, exception from BPU standards for photovoltaic electric generation on utility poles and authorizes local renewable energy collaborative for sale of renewable power generation.

Kuran and Petra Solar enter into agreement with Atlantic City Power and Light to install Telephone Pole Solar Panels.

Now is it just a coincidence that Kuran forms Petra Solar at the same time Chivukula starts to introduce bills in the assembly that require New Jersey utilities to purchase solar power?  Is it just a coincidence that Chivukula forces the BPU to change their own regulations on what can be mounted on a Telephone Pole and Kuran’s Petra Solar get a BPU approved contract for over a ½ billion dollars from PSE&G?  Is it also a coincidence that in order to install 220,000 panels in the PSE&G service territory, Chivukula gets bills passed that override local zoning laws, a bill that directly affects the bottom line of Kuran’s company, Petra Solar?

Over a half of billion dollars in a BPU approved contract to a company that only started manufacturing AFTER they received the order from PSE&G.  That is not just incredible, but rather it is unheard of!  Anyone who wants a contract of that magnitude has to show BEFORE getting the contract that it has the capability to complete the contract.  I know of no company that ever received a single order of over $500 million within their first three years of existence.  Everything here just sounds like more than a “coincidence.

In this series I have tried to answer many of the questions that have been raised by people whenever they see a telephone pole with a solar panel mounted on it.  Even those not familiar with science still wonder how a panel can produce electricity when the sun is blocked by a tree or building or when it rains, snows or is foggy.  The problem is, when I try to answer one question, two or more questions arise.  Someone has to find those answers.  They have to find out if there was any collusion between Upendra Chivukula and Shihab Kuran.  There is a huge pile of money changing hands with this Telephone Pole Solar Panel project.  It is about time for a forensic accounting of just where it is going.  The answer might lead to a few more coincidences.

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  2. CD says:

    ok so uve proved that solar is more expensive to install per watt than oil/coal/natural gas.. do u want a pulitzer? there may or may not be some shady characters involved in assigning contracts on New Jersey government projects.. do u want a pulitzer? We are quite used to being lied to here in NJ and probably wouldn’t know how to deal with the truth being told to us.

    Thank you for bringing up the shortcomings and possible fraud involved in this project, for that I applaud you. But you fail to mention why these initiatives are being installed. After solar panels are installed how much does the sun cost? How much does oil/coal/gas cost after initial investment? I know businesses and private schools that invested heavily in solar (albeit with plenty of subsidies) that now run without electricity costs and sell back plenty of left over energy to their municipalities. It generally takes them 10-15 years to get out of the red into the “green” (see what i did there) but it ends up paying off. You would be better off proving that the contracts pay way too much for these panels that even in their lifetime they can not equal the efficiency of coal/oil/gas. Even then your still missing the point of lowering our dependence on these non-renewable sources and creating a more balanced energy profile. If everyone is afraid of nuclear (and rightfully so) then wind/solar and others need to be invested in to help the country not depend on foreign oil and more importantly, not destroy our planet. I’m more interested in the infrastructure of the grid and how it can be adapted to involve heavier doses of alternative energies at a cheaper cost. Wake up and smell the CO2 man.

  3. CD:

    Once again do your homework, what happens when there is no sun? No electricity is produced. What do you do then? For every watt of “green energy” a watt of conventional generation must back it up. You right, the sun is free, but the capital cost for conventional generation is factor of 10 less than green, does not require specific conditions to run, works 24 hours per day, 365 days per week and the fuels (nuclear, coal and gas) are dirty cheap.

    By the way, man-made global warming is a farce and CO2 has no smell.

    Again, do your homework before you just repeat the lies that Al Gore and his cronies are telling.

  4. Keith Jensen says:

    Its great that Assemblyman Schroeder is assisting the fire men when it comes to solar panels, but how about the taxpayers with fleecing of the statewide telephone project. Hopefully, you will reach out to Assemblyman Schroeder to take this mission up:

  5. kim says:

    It doesn’t matter if all the stated numbers are accurate of not. This is just a bad project. I have met Shihab, slippery, a man after a buck. I also believe in going GREEN, where it makes sense. This money, 1/2 Bil. could be used on much more effective renewable energy projects. I doubt if you would want your whole street lined with these ugly panels.

  6. I agree, but people need to realize that adding Solar to their home is an purchase that should raise the actual valuation of their building if / when they make a choice to sell. With the environment the way it is going we are unable to ignore any product that delivers totally free energy at no cost to both the client and more importantly the earth!

  7. Mark D Quick says:

    Free 30% increase in rates and state and federal tax money to support Chinese interests… heres an interesting link…

    China Power Development Corp.

    2006 – September 2010 (4 years)

    Developing wind and solar energy projects in China,

    Scientific Affairs Officer

    United Nations

    Nonprofit; 10,001+ employees; International Affairs industry

    June 1973 – July 1992 (19 years 2 months) UN Headquarters, New York City

  8. dan moc says:

    great article. i wish these people who lash out with this free energy arguement would do some research. there is a huge maintenance cost associated with theses panels. you have issues with the panel surfaces. the inverters, the comm devices, and the poles/mounts. that a lot of work with 220000 of them, think of the liability when one comes crashing down on a child walking home from school.

  9. [...] CEO of inverter firm Satcon and more recently at investment bank Stonecroft Capital, is now helming Petra Solar, the very quiet of late balance-of-system and AC-module startup. Petra was well-funded and moving [...]

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