Pocono Raceway was among 13 organizations to receive the 2011 Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence. The award, presented by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, highlights the best in environmental innovation and expertise throughout the commonwealth.
The awards are the highest statewide honor bestowed upon businesses and organizations for environmental performance and innovation.
The award was given on April 28 to Brandon Igdalsky, president of Pocono Raceway, for the three megawatt 25-acre solar farm that opened in 2010 next to its NASCAR racetrack in Long Pond.
"We were nominated by the local office of the DEP," Igdalsky explained. "We did not know that we were nominated until we received a phone call, 'Congratulations, You've been selected as one of the winners of this year's award.'"
The project began in 2008 when Pocono Raceway recognized that the deregulation of electrical power in Pennsylvania would boost their rates between 30 and 40 percent.
"We needed to find a way to offset that increase," Igdalsky said.
After looking at wind, solar, geothermal, and even forming a consortium of area resorts, ski areas and hotels to buy power as a group, Pocono Raceway decided that solar was their best choice.
It received proposals from several companies and selected enXco. California-based with a New York office enXco develops, constructs, owns, operates and manages renewable energy projects.
The project was developed on 25-acres along Long Pond Road across from the Raceway. The site would use about half of an unused parking area.
The solar farm uses 39,960 solar panels. Each two-foot by four-foot panel is rated 75 watts. The panels are stacked 10 high.
The total solar array is rated just under three mega watts the maximum generating capacity for a private system. Above three megawatts generating capacity, the company is considered a utility.
Pocono Raceway is the world's largest solar powered sports facility, and the largest privately-funded, privately-owned solar farm in the United States.
The panels do not follow the sun but are stationary at an angle of 25 degrees. Igdalsky was concerned that the units might be blocked by snowfall, and was pleasantly surprised when the snow quickly melted and slid off the units – except for the lower units that are two feet off the ground.
Over the past winter, Pocono Raceway had accumulations of more than two feet of snow.
"There was a dam of snow and it had to be cleared," Igdalsky said.
The solar farm is much larger than needed to supply energy to the Raceway. Other than on NASCAR race days, the demand for power at the Raceway is only a fraction of what is generated. The solar farm generates enough power to provide the electricity needs for over 1,000 homes beyond the power needs of Pocono Raceway.
"Everything is American made," Igdalsky noted. "The panels, the wood beams, the steel and aluminum racking system is all American-made products that we bought at a premium."
The solar farm is designed to produce more than 72 million kilowatt hours of energy over the next 20 years, which offsets more than 3,104 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Pocono Raceway did not receive any grants for its solar farm and entered into the project for both environmental and business reasons. As a business venture, it anticipated a payback of between five and seven years.
To offset its investment, the raceway receives income from its electrical supplier, PPL, by generating power and sending it to the grid, and by earning Renewable Energy Credits. An REC is a credit earned for producing a certain amount of energy from a renewable resource.
To reduce its carbon footprint, utilities are required to produce part of their energy from renewable resources, or purchase RECs from a green supplier.
Asked how Pocono Raceway's investment was doing, Igdalsky responded, "It was on schedule until the Pennsylvania market for RECs took a big hit. There's too much solar in Pennsylvania right now.
"The market value of Solar RECs has dropped significantly," Igdalsky said.
"SRECs are a commodity. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that allows out-of-state RECs to be sold in state. So, it's flooded the market here, and it has hurt the state, and stopped a lot of projects from being built. I'd like to see the stoppage of out-of-state RECs in Pennsylvania.
"If we were to do it today, seeing how the Pennsylvania market has gone, if it was a monetary decision, we wouldn't do it," Igdalsky said.
"Environmentally – yes, because it's what we needed to do. People aren't going to spend that kind of money on a model that's broken in Pennsylvania."
Pocono Raceway was founded by Igdalsky's grandfather, Dr. Joseph Mattioli, who was an investor in Pocono properties. Mattioli was a dentist, and his wife, Rose, was a podiatrist," Igdalsky said.
"Their motto was, 'Head to toe, it's Rose and Joe.'"
The raceway started in 1968.
"I started when I was 13 years old picking garbage and working in the sewer plant," Igdalsky said. With George Ewald, the vice-president and superintendent, now in his 40th year at Pocono Raceway, they continue to make the environment an integral part of their business.