Merck plans solar-energy system for Upper Gwynedd

Merck & Co. Inc. is looking to build a solar-energy system at its Upper Gwynedd operations, and it’s getting some state help to pay for it.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority approved Tuesday a $1 million grant to support the pharmaceutical company’s plans for a 1.6-megawatt system the state says would generate about 22 percent of the electricity needed at that location.

The project, which the state says will cost a total of $11.3 million, would be the third large-scale solar-energy system for Merck. It began with a 500-kilowatt rooftop system on two buildings at its Rahway, N.J., corporate campus in June 2006.

In April, Merck switched on a 1.6-megawatt ground-mounted solar-tracking system at its world headquarters in Whitehouse Station, N.J. In both cases, Merck received financial incentives from the New Jersey Clean Energy Program.

Merck’s Pennsylvania project is being funded through the state’s $650 million Alternative Energy Investment Fund. And it wasn’t the biggest of the $17.1 million in grants and loans the Commonwealth Financing Authority approved this week.

That would be a 10-megawatt solar-power plant in the Carbon County borough of Nesquehoning. Conshohocken-based Green Energy Capital Partners L.L.C. hopes to break ground on its $78 million PA Solar Park next month.

The project will get a $5.5 million grant from Pennsylvania. If it gets built, it would be the second-largest of its kind in the United States behind a 14-megawatt solar installation at an Air Force base near Las Vegas.

Two other local companies received funding. Brown’s Super Store Inc. got a $1 million grant to install a 695-kilowatt system on the roof of its ShopRite in Cheltenham. Solar Roofing Systems Inc. was awarded a $430,000 grant to help buy $7.3 million in equipment to make solar roofing tile at its Lansdale factory.

On the other side of the state, Solar Power Industries Inc. received $7.5 million in financing to produce components in Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, for the hot solar energy industry.

Solar Power Industries will build its factory on the site of another formerly hot business: Sony’s now-closed factory that made big-screen LCD high-definition TVs.