When Frank Wells noticed the abundance of windmills along the California coast during a drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco several years ago, the Union Beach resident figured he’d try to bring some of the West Coast back to his Bayshore town.
Wells, who sits on the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority’s board of commissioners, wants the force of the wind, not fuel spawned by decaying dinosaur remains, to power the treatment of what goes down the drain or the toilet in northern Monmouth County.
“Fossil fuels will not last forever,” said Wells, who is also a borough councilman. “Right now, we have no control over our energy costs. If a new war starts or fuel supplies go down, prices will go up.”
For several months, the authority has studied the feasibility of erecting a single $3.5 million windmill, called a wind turbine by the energy industry, at its treatment plant in Union Beach.
Similar to five wind turbines in Atlantic City that began servicing the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in December 2005, the turbine would be just the second public wind project in New Jersey, said Eric Hartsfield, a spokesman for the state Board of Public Utilities.
Under ideal wind conditions, the authority’s wind turbine would generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the plant, said Robert Fischer, the sewerage authority’s executive director.
When wind speeds were low and toilet flush rates high, the authority would need to purchase the electricity necessary to keep the plant running from its traditional energy supplier, Jersey Central Power & Light, Fischer said.
But when treatment demand was low and winds high, Bayshore would feed the excess energy back into the regional power grid and receive a credit from JCP&L, he said.
The projected savings would “pay back” the wind turbine’s cost in nine to 12 years, Fischer said. Should energy prices rise or the project qualify for state or federal grants, the cost would be recovered more quickly, he said.
“We are a business, and simply put, this appears to make business sense,” said Fischer, who noted wind turbines are projected to last about 25 years. “At the same time, it would have a positive environmental impact.”
Although no one has yet to express any opposition to Wells about the proposal, he believes few people in Union Beach are aware the authority is thinking of building a wind turbine.
A blade on the wind turbine that the authority is considering would swoosh as high as 350 feet, Fischer said. The Statue of Liberty, by comparison, is 305 feet tall, according to the National Park Service’s Web site.
But along Edmunds Avenue, a quiet residential block near the plant where children on bicycles outnumber motorists, residents interviewed said they were not concerned about the possibility of seeing a wind turbine rise several stories over the treatment plant.
“As long as (the turbine) doesn’t fall on my house, it doesn’t bother me,” said Manny Gonzalez as he unloaded groceries from his pickup truck. “And if it does, I get a new house, so I’m not too worried.”
Across the street, Jeff Lupton stood on his front porch, sipping coffee as he stared toward where the turbine would be located.
“It can’t be much more of an eyesore than the sewage plant itself,” said Lupton, who has lived in his house for seven years. “I think it could even be pretty neat.”
Officials from the New Jersey Audubon Society, who have voiced concern over the impact that up to 80 proposed wind turbines off the state’s coastline might have on wildlife, could not be reached for comment.
In the coming months, the sewerage authority plans to hire consultants to conduct detailed studies of wind rates at its Oak Street plant and the potential impact the wind turbine could have on birds. The plant is immediately adjacent to acres of wetlands off the coast of Raritan Bay.
The authority likely would float a bond to pay for the wind turbine’s cost. Authority officials said they still need to determine whether the bond’s annual costs could be offset by energy savings or if additional revenue, such as through a rate hike, would be needed.
“We’re taking baby steps until we know whether it’s a feasible project,” said Fischer, who estimates the earliest construction could commence would be 2009.
By Kevin Penton
2 April 2007
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