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Blake Recovery Center at Carrier Clinic

March 1, 2010
by Belle Mead, N.J.
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It might surprise some to learn that New Jersey ranks second only to California in the number of solar energy installations across a state. One also might not assume that the largest solar array on a New Jersey campus would be situated at a 100-year-old clinical campus that has not seen significant building renovations since the 1980s.

“It's paradoxical—people are very surprised to see it,” says Mary Pawlikowski, chief operating officer of Carrier Clinic, a nonprofit behavioral health center in Somerset County that includes the Blake Recovery Center addiction treatment facility. “Patients and families think it's a cool thing.”

While to some a photovoltaic installation on a century-old hospital campus might seem out of place, its appearance on the Carrier Clinic campus was no misplaced priority. Pawlikowski explains that it constitutes an ideal fit for an organization seeking to improve the efficiency of an aging physical plant. Having become operational at the close of 2009, the solar array situated on 14 acres of the 350-acre campus will meet 50 percent of Carrier Clinic's electrical needs. The projected annual savings are around $150,000, Pawlikowski says.

A vendor originally approached the organization with a proposal to install the solar system. Carrier Clinic would end up researching other vendors and selecting the company enXco, an EDF Energies Nouvelles Company that besides its solar projects is the leading third-party operations provider of wind farms in North America.

The arrangement enXco has with Carrier Clinic essentially allowed the behavioral health facility to participate in this project with little initial investment outside of legal costs. Under a 25-year power purchase agreement, enXco owns and operates the system and is eligible to collect state rebates that are available to it but not to an entity such as Carrier Clinic.

Officials at Carrier Clinic, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary, sought to ensure that the solar panels would not detract from the campus's overall aesthetic. They surrounded the site with a fence that blends with the environment and they arranged for landscaping in front of the installation.

The patients at Blake have a bird's-eye view of the solar array, as it is situated almost directly behind the addiction treatment facility. The location inspired Carrier Clinic to develop a courtyard for the back of the Blake building.

While it would be difficult to contend that the energy source contributes directly to patients' wellness, it clearly reflects a mindset at Carrier Clinic that tries to be sensitive to the little quality-of-life issues that can affect a treatment stay.

“Things such as the HVAC system are items that you don't see but are important,” Pawlikowski says. “They have an impact on customer service. People will complain about the water temperature in the showers, or that in one room it's 90 degrees but in another room it's 60.”

As part of a master planning process, facility officials are now looking to see what kinds of additions or renovations could improve the treatment experience at Blake. “We're redefining what we feel we need to create a more welcoming environment,” Pawlikowski says. “We want to make the lounges more atrium-like, and take advantage of the natural light.” One area that already benefits from plentiful outdoor light is a community group room that houses a mural completed by an artist in tribute to a deceased former patient.

In an unexpected development, the solar energy project actually has served to boost staff morale. “The staff is excited to be part of an organization that is thinking this way,” Pawlikowski says. She adds, “We may be 100 years old, but we're not old-clinically or environmentally.”

Photos by Heather Steel and David Holey/enXco Addiction Professional 2010 March-April;8(2):34-36