3 New Brunswick restaurants have a place in the sun
The next time you order Molten Valrhona Chocolate Cake at Stage Left or Catherine Lombardi restaurants in New Brunswick, you'll have the power of the sun to thank. And the dimly lit ambience also comes courtesy of recently installed solar panels.
The two New Brunswick restaurants and nearby Frog and the Peach are among the first eateries in the state to harness solar power for everything from cooking to ventilation using the state Board of Public Utilities Clean Energy solar rebate program, said Jeanne Fox, president of the BPU.
More than 2,000 locations in New Jersey -- from schools to farms -- use solar paneling to generate electricity, but Fox said the three New Brunswick restaurants are the first fine-dining establishments in the state to take advantage of the BPU grant.
New Jersey has the second-highest number of places with solar paneling in the country after California, Fox said.
"It's exciting to see paneling in the restaurant sector because establishments that use it can be role models, showing that it's worthwhile," Fox said. "It also sends a message to customers that clean energy is good for the environment. The restaurants have a unique opportunity because customers spend time there, and may even discuss it over dinner."
In the past few years, due to high demand, the state's rebate program for the energy-saving solar panels has been reduced from about 60 percent to 40 percent of the cost, Fox said. Installation runs between $80,000 and $100,000 for a smaller-sized grid, Fox said.
Deborah Dowdell, president of the state's restaurant association, said solar technology is a new enough phenomenon that it is still expensive for the majority of restaurateurs.
"Will solar paneling go into all restaurants? Probably not," Dowdell said. "Perhaps in new construction, when considering long-term costs, it would work as an alternative. But it's an extremely expensive upfront endeavor."
Dowdell said the restaurant sector-- with 23,000 bars and eateries in the state-- could do other things to be environmentally friendly.
One example is the Jersey Fresh campaign the restaurant association launched last year in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture, Dowdell said. Colorful signs were made available to restaurants that serve locally grown produce. Most restaurant owners placed the signs in their windows to attract customers.
"Energy and the greening of our society is not just about solar paneling," Dowdell said. "It's about changing light bulbs and using local products."
Emphasizing sustainability-- from farm to table-- is part of the reason Mark Pascal, co-owner of Catherine Lombardi and Stage Left, decided to make the change to solar paneling.
"The thought was, let's make the world a better place and the restaurant more sustainable," said Pascal, adding that as energy costs are going up, it became economically viable.
Pascal said the restaurants, which are located in the same building, will save about $500 per month in electricity bills, with an additional $300 to $500 saved in tax benefits. The installation cost $80,000 and the state rebate amounted to $53,870, said Doyal Siddell, spokesman for the BPU.
"When the restaurants are using less than they're producing, like when the sun is shining brightly at 11 a.m., they sell power back to the grid," Pascal said. "Which fits into trying to encourage people to eat locally, act sustainably and eat products that can be grown or fished."