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Utility looks to windmill as fuel source

UNION BEACH – Flapping a toilet’s lever or turning a faucet’s knob takes only so much energy.

But converting what drains out of northern Monmouth County’s kitchens and bathrooms into water clean enough to dump into the Atlantic Ocean takes about 8,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Rather than relying on natural gas or petroleum to generate the electricity, the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority is interested in generating its own power by building a 380-foot-tall windmill.

Before the authority becomes only the second public agency in the state to rely on wind to fuel its electrical operations, officials want to make sure its Union Beach plant is windy enough to justify a project that consultants estimate could cost over $3.5 million.

“There’s a question about whether we have the wind velocity to sustain this project,” said Robert C. Fischer, the authority’s executive director. “If we’re going to go all the way, we should study this with a 50-foot tower.”

The authority expects to request proposals next month from companies willing to measure wind at the plant for 12 months with a miniature windmill.

The study would also include an analysis of how the authority would pay for the project, identify the best location to erect a turbine, and examine potential visual and noise impacts.

For the project to move forward, authority officials believe the study would need to show that average wind speeds at the plant are at least 14 miles per hour – anything less than that would elongate the “payback” time for the windmill, known officially as a wind turbine.

“A small change in the velocity is a big change in the turbine’s power generation,” Fischer told the authority’s commissioners during a meeting last week.

Even if the study justifies the project, the authority would still need to buy electricity from its power supplier, Jersey Central Power & Light, whenever wind speeds were low and sewage flows high.

But when the opposite occurred, the authority would bounce its excess energy back into the regional power grid and receive a credit.

The Atlantic County Utilities Authority, which relies on wind to generate much of its energy, partners with a private consortium that actually built and owns the plant’s five wind turbines.

Commissioners are still unsure whether to take on such an agreement, in which a private company would take on the financial risks of building a turbine in exchange for pocketing any of its profits while giving the authority a fixed energy rate.

During Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, Chairwoman Carole Balmer wondered whether it would make more sense for a private company interested in building the authority’s turbine to pay for the one-year wind study.

But because it is unclear whether wind at the plant site is sufficient to justify the project, Fischer and Commissioner Frank Wells said it might be difficult to find any takers for such a proposal.

“You’re not going to get Santa Claus in here to take care of everything from start to finish,” Wells said.

By Kevin Penton
Keyport Bureau

Asbury Park Press


21 May 2007