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It’s Easy Being Green

by Jennifer L. Nelson
Or at least it is in South Jersey, where energy providers are harnessing their power to provide locals with no shortage of renewable, clean energy options to power their homes and businesses.

Businesses throughout the region are embracing the future of green technologies with the hope of saving money on utility costs, reducing their carbon footprint, and preserving the vitality of South Jersey’s economy for years to come.

With New Jersey already considered a leader in the nation when it comes to solar power, and the state’s aggressive Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard calling for a 20 percent conversion to renewable energies such as wind, biomass and geothermal technologies by 2020, the state is well on its way.

Opportunities Abound
The range of green energy initiatives stretch from large-scale projects to smaller ones within South Jersey municipalities to lower energy consumption and take advantage of cleaner energy sources.

In Voorhees, for example, officials are in the midst of purchasing garbage trucks that will run on natural gas to take advantage of South Jersey Gas’ development of compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations—which provides a savings of the equivalent of up to $2 per gallon of gasoline. “We’re very serious about the environment, and we want to be good stewards of the earth,” says Larry Spellman, Voorhees township administrator.

The township is also in the process of transforming an old landfill into the Voorhees Environmental Park; a quarter to a third of the 35-acre park will be devoted to solar panels, Spellman says, and the township is currently working with Rutgers University landscape architecture graduate students on design plans.

Closer to the shore, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) is also instrumental in establishing both CNG fueling stations and state-of-the-art waste-to-energy systems, in addition to solar and wind projects, which saved ACUA more than $2 million in energy costs in 2011. “As a small, densely populated state, we use a lot of energy … so we are left with the options of importing more electricity, usually from dirty coal plants, or developing renewable resources in the state,” asserts Greg Seher, project analyst at ACUA. “We can also pay high costs to ship waste long distances to out-of-state landfills, or we can develop new waste-to-energy technologies.”

Following that waste-to-energy system is the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, which recently received a $1 million grant from PSE&G for a geothermal project that will help harness wastewater to provide more energy efficient heating and cooling for the facility.

The project is expected to save the CCMUA, one of only 33 EPA-certified wastewater treatment plants in the nation, about $80,000 per year in energy expenses by utilizing the natural green energy available from latent geothermal heat in order to reduce the need for conventional heating. That’s on top of the expected $250,000 annual savings due to a new 2-megawatt solar array recently unveiled at the CCMUA. These projects are all part of a carbon-neutral, sustainable blueprint for all CCMUA facilities.

A Helping Hand
Fortunately, South Jersey’s municipalities don’t have to go it alone when it comes to going green. Many South Jersey entities are participating in the Local Government Energy Audit Program (LGEA) offered through New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program, designed by the state’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to help organizations identify and implement energy-efficiency measures—while subsidizing the full cost of the audit.

Locally, the Bellmawr School District, Burlington County College and Gloucester Township have participated in the program. Through measures such as lighting, programmable thermostats, condensing boilers, AC unit upgrades, solar panel systems and more, the audit showed great potential in energy savings: Bellmawr could reduce its electric usage by nearly 15 percent, BCC by 32.5 percent, and Gloucester Township by 56 percent. Actual monetary savings would be $38,793, $83,495 and $72,610, respectively.

The Voorhees Township Board of Education also enrolled five facilities in the program; the report estimated an annual electrical energy purchase reduction of 71 percent and a natural gas reduction of 85 percent. “An audit of our police station showed an energy savings of $11,000 a year, despite moving to a facility twice its original size,” Spellman says.

The BPU also offers a Direct Install program, which recently benefited the Mount Laurel Fire Department building on Church Road, saving an estimated $12,755 through the installation of lighting retrofits and controls, occupancy sensors that turn the lights off when no one is in the room, HVAC and gas upgrades, and more. With the total municipal share after the Direct Install incentive at just $38,480, the payback period is only three years.

Businesses in the area have also taken advantage of the program, such as Holman Ford in Turnersville, Jet Line Products in Cinnaminson, Free to Be Me Learning Center in Mullica Hill, and Goodwill in Pennsauken.

Companies such as South Jersey Industries (SJI) are also on board with efforts to help local businesses reduce their carbon footprint, with solar farms installed in locations including Seabrook Farms in Cumberland County, and landfill gas projects implemented throughout Burlington and Atlantic counties.

SJI is also involved in what has been emerging as an environmentally friendly trend in South Jersey: Combined heat and power, or CHP, is the source of energy that is partly powering the new Revel Casino in Atlantic City. The generation of electricity and heat from one source of fuel has been recognized by the state as part of the Energy Master Plan released by Gov. Chris Christie late last year, and projects to incorporate CHP are being supported by New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program.

“There’s a smaller focus on CHP than solar, which doesn’t get the renewable credit that we think it deserves,” says William Shiminske, senior vice president and managing director of development for SJI’s Energenic LLC. “CHP is great for both customers and the environment because it takes the strain off the local utility grid … and developing these projects will help achieve the CHP megawatt goals outlined in the master plan.”

The Rise of Solar Power
In response to New Jersey being saddled with some of the highest energy prices across the United States, the 10-year plan was developed to provide a vision for the use, management and development of energy in the state—including efforts to make New Jersey the largest and fastest-growing solar energy market in the country. Though the state remains second only to California in solar energy production, the plan also aims to address the recent drop in the market price of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), which has been hindering businesses statewide from taking full advantage of solar energy.

“We do see a viable energy source in solar energy. It’s right here and it’s right now, and we’re working hard with the legislature to continue to grow the state’s solar capacity,” says Robert Hanna, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

PSE&G is making strides to bring solar energy to South Jersey through two programs. The company’s flagship Solar 4 All program aims to add 80 megawatts of solar electric generation capacity—enough to power about 13,000 homes—to the PSE&G system by the end of this year.

Divided into two main initiatives, 40 megawatts in neighborhood solar and 40 megawatts of centralized solar, the program allows the company to take advantage of previously untapped resources such as remediated brownsfields, flat-top roofs, and space on utility poles. In South Jersey, PSE&G currently has solar farms in West Deptford and Burlington, with a third in development in Moorestown. “Solar is going to be subject to boom and bust cycles, but I think the role of the utility company is vital in helping to stabilize the industry and ensuring that it continues to grow,” says Joseph Forline, vice president of customer operations for PSE&G.

Independent providers like Blue Sky Power, LLC in Camden tend to agree; the company is in the midst of completing major solar installations and energy management systems at Stockton College in Galloway, in addition to a range of solar energy projects, such as at the Black Horse Pike Regional School District in Gloucester Township. The company finances and manages clean energy capital projects for governmental, institutional, commercial and industrial facilities throughout the region.

“Solar energy is a big part of the future of green energy in South Jersey, but because the industry is based on New Jersey’s innovative approach to a market-based solar program, when demand goes down, the price goes down—so the industry is in a bit of flux right now due to the current state of the SREC market,” explains Benjamin Parvey, co-founder and CEO for Blue Sky Power. “However, our goal has always been the integration of projects and solutions to help people save the most money on energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions … there is no single solution.”

PSE&G also offers a Solar Loan program to help finance the installation of solar power systems for residents, businesses and organizations throughout its service area. Customers have the option of using the SRECs generated by the solar electric system to pay back the loan. The company is also promoting the use of other renewable energy sources, as evidenced by the geothermal grant from PSE&G to the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority.

Like other energy providers, PSE&G has emerged as a strong proponent of businesses “going green” the old-fashioned way: becoming more efficient in the way energy is used to power their operations. One of their many efficiency programs is targeted specifically toward the region’s hospitals; the company conducts an energy audit and provides the capital to install measures that will help them become more energy-efficient.

According to Forline, hospitals such as Camden-based Our Lady of Lourdes and Cooper University Hospital, and the Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, have all benefited from the program, and received more than $7 million from the company to invest in energy-efficiency measures.

“The best way to save energy is to become more efficient in how you use it,” he says.

“That’s why so many programs in South Jersey are targeted toward helping residents and businesses use energy in the best way possible.”

The Future of Green Energy
South Jersey’s role in green energy will continue to look bright thanks to companies like Fishermen’s Energy, LLC in Cape May, on track to install the first offshore wind farm in the United States. The company plans to build five turbines in state waters about three miles off Atlantic City with the ultimate goal of producing up to 25 megawatts—enough energy to power approximately 10,000 homes.

“Wind is a purely clean energy, and we wanted to help people take advantage of a resource that also happens to be free,” says Rhonda Jackson, director of communications, outreach and project development for Fishermen’s Energy.

Jackson also points out that the development of renewable energy projects doesn’t only preserve the environment and save businesses money—investing in green energy also boosts the local economy. The company estimates hiring approximately 240 workers during the construction of the $220 million wind farm project, and ultimately creating about 35 permanent jobs.

The announcement of the Fishermen’s Energy project shows the potential the state also has to become a leader in wind energy as well as solar, one of the many goals of the state’s Energy Master Plan. The project could piggyback off the plans for the new $250 million Delaware River port in Paulsboro, which is the planned assembly point for the offshore wind industry in New Jersey. The port was the site where the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act was signed, a bill that helped create an offshore renewable energy certificate program that requires a certain percentage of electricity sold in the state to be wind energy manufactured offshore. It is scheduled to open next year.

Says Jackson: “It’s a win-win; the development of offshore wind can make a huge impact on the area and create so many opportunities, whether it’s benefiting the manufacturing and tourism fields, creating jobs, or providing opportunities to develop new ports in the area.”

The Third-Party Solution

Many of South Jersey’s residents and businesses are taking power into their own hands by shopping around for energy providers in an effort to save money. As part of New Jersey’s energy deregulation law, the supply portion of an electric or natural gas bill is now separated from the delivery portion—leaving the supply open to a customer’s discretion.

Now that purchasing energy has become a purely economic decision—electric and natural gas distribution utilities will still deliver supplies and respond to any issues or emergencies—South Jersey businesses truly harness the power of choice when it comes to seeking the provider that offers the best prices and packages to suit their energy needs.

Local business owners have plenty of options to meet their energy demands. Companies like UGI Energy Services, Inc. in Moorestown, Palmco Energy NJ, LLC in Marlton, and PPL Energy Plus, LLC in Cherry Hill are providing electricity and gas to customers in PSE&G’s service area, while South Jersey Gas customers can choose from companies including Energy Plus Natural Gas LP in Mount Laurel and South Jersey Energy Company in Folsom.

One such electricity supplier is BlueStar Energy, which, unlike regulated utility companies, has the ability to alter products to suit each customer. “There was a time when customers didn’t have a choice about where their power came from, but now they can seek a company that provides a bundle of services that precisely matches their needs,” says Graham Leith, vice president and general manager for the company’s commercial energy business.

While the ability to choose a third-party energy provider allows businesses to save money on utility costs, perhaps the best news of all is that these independent providers are effectively furthering the region’s efforts to integrate both renewable and cleaner energy sources. “If you can control how you use power, you can reduce your costs and your carbon footprint,” Leith adds.

Customers can make choices about how to shift their energy load throughout the course of a day, or the ratio with which they’d like to derive power from solar or wind sources. “How you buy and how you use energy are both equally critical for customers; the more businesses consider both their costs and the environment, the bigger impact they’ll have,” he says.

After all, Leith concludes, “the greenest form of energy is the one you didn’t have to use in the first place.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 2, Issue 4 (April, 2012).
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