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Power outage! Coney station’s solar array is fueling disappointment

The MTA’s “solar” roof at the Stillwell Avenue subway station is Coney Island’s biggest dog-and-pony show.

Hailed for its environmentaly friendly design when it was unveiled in 2005, the subway station’s solar panel–covered roof actually provides little power that is actually used at the station — even though one expert said that the array could fulfill half the station’s electrical needs.

Transit officials don’t seem to mind.

“Adding a little solar was a very minor addition to a major project,” said NYC Transit Chief Environmental Engineer Tom Abdallah. “We didn’t do this for real huge savings. We did this as an educational service to show what you can do with renewable technology.”

Apparently, you can’t do a lot.

Just 12–18 percent of the station’s electrical power is generated by the panels — and only when the sun is shining.

“We could get better use,” Abdallah said. “If we had very good sunny days, the solar array could produce 50 percent of the station’s power needs.”

The 76,000 square-foot canopy stretching across the D, F, N and Q subway lines is covered in 2,730 photovoltaic cells. Some of the solar panels are damaged, but the MTA says that it’s too big a job to replace them individually.

According to Abdallah, when enough of the panels go out, maintenance crews will replace them all at once. The TA has 270 replacement panels in reserve.

What little power the Stillwell Avenue subway station roof does provide helps power the lights and MetroCard vending machines.

The main problem with the solar panels is that they are not connected to the electrical grid, meaning that extra electricity is not put back into the system. On a sunny day, any excess power genearated by the sun is wasted, rather than saved for, quite literally, a rainy day.

Transit officials say they will meet with Con Edison to talk about putting the station on the grid.

“We’re always looking for new technologies,” Abdallah said.

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