OCEAN GATE – This small town at the mouth of the Toms River took a big step Monday toward becoming the first New Jersey municipality to invest in wind power, when the Borough Council approved new rules for setting up wind turbines.
The ordinance sets the stage for Ocean Gate to install a 50-kilowatt turbine near its municipal building, which local resident and retired engineer James Frye calculates can generate most power needs for the municipal complex.
It’s a plan that takes advantage of perhaps the most unappreciated natural resource on Barnegat Bay – reliable winds that make the Toms River a favorite of sailors and inspired wind power pioneer Russell Long to install a landmark wind turbine at his riverfront home in Berkeley during the late 1970s.
“The first concern is, do you have enough wind? Anyone who lives here can tell you that,” said Frye, who came to the idea of a community wind generator while researching alternative power sources for his own home.
What’s obvious to residents was confirmed with help from experts at Rowan University and weather records from NASA and other agencies. Ocean Gate has consistently reliable wind, averaging more than 6 mph a day even during the mild spring and summer months, he said.
Borough officials are using a rough estimate of $225,000 for the complete cost of buying and installing the turbine, with 30 percent to be paid by a state grant for renewable energy projects. The remainder would be financed with a 10-year bond, with the annual benefits of lower electricity costs growing until the bond is finally paid off, Frye said.
“This is not a savings – it’s a tax stabilization,” Frye said. “We lose 135,000 kilowatt-hours a year in this building. We also know it’s going to cost us $20,000 a year,” with annual increases on the order of 10 percent to 12 percent,” he added.
Mayor Paul Kennedy said the wind project started more than a year ago, when Frye approached borough officials to tell them what he had learned about wind power potential here. “He started talking to me about it, and one thing led to another,” Kennedy said.
The proposal has its skeptics, especially immediate neighbors who would be looking at the turbine tower and its 50-foot rotor blades.
“Did you ever get any estimates on solar panels?” asked neighbor John E. Schaefer of East Cape May Avenue.
There’s not enough roof area on the borough hall to fit a 50-kilowatt solar system, and the cost for that match of wind turbine output would be around $625,000, said Ralph Avallone of the Green Energy Council, a trade group for producers of renewable energy systems including wind and solar.
“This is the first community in New Jersey to adopt such an aggressive wind energy ordinance,” Avallone told the council. He said the Ocean Gate ordinance – penned with help from wind advocates like Island Wind president Michael Mercurio of Long Beach Township – is so significant that Avallone’s group is sending copies to national mayors’ and building code organizations.
“I want to commend you for being on the cutting edge,” said Joseph L. Fiordaliso, a commissioner on the state Board of Public Utilities, which has been offering incentives to encourage development of wind power.
Fiordaliso acknowledged one problem neighbors pointed out: State law constrains Ocean Gate’s site planning, by prohibiting the turbine transmission line from crossing property lines and utility rights of way.
“Under utility laws you cannot cross a street or property line, or you become a utility” subject to the same massive body of regulation, Mercurio said. But that’s a change that needs to come from the state Legislature, they said.
Prodded by climate change, a state task force recently put out a report that says tough choices need to be made on nuclear and renewable power sources if New Jersey is to significantly restrain its output of greenhouse gases.
“We have a 900-megawatt goal for non-solar alternatives by 2020,” said Gail Collins of the state’s Clean Energy Program. “This is a really great program.”
Kennedy said he’s arranged for a tour of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority wind generators in Atlantic City for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, and can bring in any Ocean Gate residents who want to see those turbines if they call his office early and can arrange their own transportation to the ACUA plant on the White Horse Pike/Route 40.
By Kirk Moore
13 November 2007
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