Those green M&Ms are getting greener.
A New Jersey candy factory that produces M&Ms flipped the switch Monday on a dedicated solar array that's the largest in the nation to serve a single manufacturing complex, according to Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.
The 18-acre field of solar panels in Hackettstown is capable of generating 2.2 megawatts per hour of clean energy. That's about one-fifth of the plant's power needs, or enough power for roughly 1,800 homes.
McLean, Va.-based Mars Inc. provided the land next to its manufacturing facility. Newark, N.J.-based PSEG spent more than $10 million building the array of 28,680 solar panels.
Former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, who once ran the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the project proves corporate profits and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive.
"Not only are they not mutually exclusive, but they can and must grow together," Whitman said. "This is a real live symbol that we can do this."
The array is the 11th-largest solar generation facility in the U.S., according to the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Electric Power Association.
Mars, a privately held company, has more than $30 billion in annual sales. Its iconic products also include Snickers and Twix candy bars.
Mars officials declined to specify what kind of deal it's receiving on energy from the array but said it's paying well below market price. PSEG receives a $650 solar credit for each megawatt hour of energy that the array generates.
Diana Drysdale, who runs PSEG's solar construction subsidiary, said large-scale renewable energy facilities like the Hackettstown array are the only way New Jersey can keep pace with the state's master plan for energy. It calls for 20 percent of all energy to be generated from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, by 2020.
"Large-scale solar facilities are essential for New Jersey to meet its aggressive solar mandate and this project proves that they can be a very real part of the state's energy mix," Drysdale said.
New Jersey is second only to California in solar power generation, with 100 megawatts of capacity installed.
There are hundreds of factories in New Jersey using small amounts of dedicated solar power, but only a handful generate more than 500 kilowatts per hour of their own power.
"It's really important to our family to make sure that this company is going in the right direction with regard to environmental issues," said Victoria Mars, a member of the candy maker's board of directors.