Mike Mercurio has waited decades for New Jersey to invest in wind power.
His wait may be just about over.
Meeting at Rowan University on Friday, state and federal officials, wind power entrepreneurs, financiers, academics and environmentalists mapped out a strategy for bringing wind energy to your backyard.
“When I asked who would be willing to (volunteer time to promote wind power) … everybody raised their hand,” said Rowan’s Peter Jansson, who led the day’s discussion. “That was very exciting.”
The wind supporters will tackle barriers to wind power development that they identified Friday, such as restrictive zoning and lack of information about where windmills should be located.
New Jersey ranks second only to California in its installed capacity of photovoltaic cells, or solar panels. But wind power has lagged behind, dogged by environmental concerns, zoning regulations and an overall perception that it’s not a viable energy source.
“I’ve been trying to promote wind for so long in this state and it’s always been one thing after another that’s keeping it down,” said Mercurio, who has a windmill and solar panels on his house on Long Beach Island that produce as much
energy as he uses.
Mercurio is president of Island Wind, a clean energy consulting firm, and hopes to expand into the commercial and residential wind power.
“I’ve been waiting for the right technologies to come along – (and they) are now coming on to the market,” he said. “Public opinion is in favor of clean, renewable energy, and local governments, such as Brigantine, have already adopted (wind-favorable zoning). … The state should adopt a model ordinance for towns to (use) if they want to support wind energy.”
There are about 28 state wind power “working groups” in the nation, including the highly successful Pennsylvania Wind Working Group, which has facilitated the construction of 145 megawatts of wind generation capacity in Pennsylvania and hopes to double that by the end of 2007.
The groups, all volunteer, focus on making wind power a viable option, through public education, zoning changes, state tax credit programs and networking.
It was New Jersey’s Office of Clean Energy that decided New Jersey needed to light a fire under its wind power generation efforts and contacted Rowan and Rutgers University, which co-sponsored Friday’s conference.
“We’re wondering why solar has taken off so big in New Jersey, but wind hasn’t,” Jansson said.
There are a number of reasons why, conference participants conceded. First of all, with the exception of its barrier islands, scientists say most of New Jersey is only “marginally suitable” for windmills due to low wind speeds. Windmills require winds of at least 7 to 10 mph in order to produce power, and those winds occur inconsistently in the state, making windmills less cost-effective than in other parts of the country.
Second, there is virulent public opposition to windmills in many places they are proposed, due to concerns about unsightliness, noise and danger to birds and bats. Zoning in many places, including much of Cape May County, makes siting a windmill an uphill battle.
Lastly, some participants say the state’s renewable energy credit system could make windmills less financially attractive than solar panels to the conservation-minded homeowner, business or farmer.
New Jersey’s Wind Working Group hopes to counter those negatives by capitalizing on the positives – such as public support for clean energy and New Jersey’s high disposable income – to build interest in wind energy statewide.
Instead of pushing for large, utility-scale wind projects, the group will push to install private windmills serving farms, businesses, utilities and private homeowners. The windmill owner would be paid for excess energy fed back into the grid.
“I think (this) is great,” said New Jersey Public Interest Research Group’s Suzanne Leta Liou, who participated Friday. “New Jersey has incredible potential for developing off-shore wind … but there’s also great potential for onshore and, particularly, small-scale wind (generation).”
By Meggan Clark: firstname.lastname@example.org
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