The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders listened to a presentation from the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority (BRSA) about the 380- foot-tall industrial wind turbine planned for Union Beach, at a work session meeting on Aug. 12.
The board unanimously passed a resolution on July 8 against the proposed 1.5- megawatt turbine – which would be located 1,080 feet from a residential neighborhood— after listening to concerns from residents at a meeting in Keyport.
The presentation by BRSA Executive Director Robert Fischer was an effort to address the freeholders’ concerns about health and safety, lack of protection for community roads and infrastructure, and diminished property values.
“The Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority has done quite an extensive amount of study and due diligence on this project,” Fischer said, addressing the freeholders. “We took what we call a very cautious and conservative approach to this project from the very beginning.”
The plan, which received final approval from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in June, will have a 240-foot-tall on-shore concrete pedestal and blades that measure approximately 118 feet in length. When placed on the pedestal, the entire installation will stand 380 feet tall. Land excavation for the foundation of the turbine has already begun.
The turbine project is scheduled to receive funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The authority will be borrowing up to $7.7 million, and under the federal stimulus package, $3.85 million of that loan will not have to be repaid.
Fischer explained that the BRSA developed a conceptual turbine plan in 2007 by conducting a study of the wind in the Bayshore area. After surveying wind speeds of more than 13.5 miles per hour, the authority concluded in 2008 that its 24-acre wastewater management plant property would be the best location for the structure.
“At that point, we realized we had quite an abundant amount of wind speed at that treatment plant, sufficient to create a wind power project,” Fischer said. “At that point, still in a conceptual phase, we sent notice out to all of the residents through a newsletter letting them know this is what we plan on doing.”
Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry asked how many newsletters were sent out to residents, and Fischer said the turbine announcement reached 6,000 households in the borough of Union Beach through the municipality’s newsletter.
During the conceptual phase, Fischer said the authority considered erecting two small turbines on the property, but found that smaller turbines have a smaller blade diameter and spin at higher revolutions per minute, producing faster wind speeds, increasing noise.
In December 2008, the BRSA presented the turbine plan to the Union Beach Borough Council and Planning Board, Fischer said. The authority subsequently held an open house about the wind-to-energy project for Union Beach residents only. Approximately 20 people attended.
Later, the authority conducted a noise study and visited the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) in Atlantic City, where five wind turbines have been constructed.
“It has been described by some that it is out on an island, but they have five turbines, and as you can see, they have a residential neighborhood right across the street,” Fischer said. “They are within 1,500 feet from the residents, 1,600 feet from the neighboring playground, and 100 employees that have been on-site for close to five years under the operation of these turbines without complaints.”
In the fall of 2008, the authority held a statewide forum about the wind project, but attendance was low.
“It wasn’t until May of 2010 where we began to see some people show up at our meetings,” Fischer said. “Until then, we have not had a single resident show up at any of our public meetings.”
The turbine would produce a little more than 3.5 million kilowatt hours a year, he explained. The authority would receive an additional $400,000 clean energy grant from the state’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU).
However, the freeholders questioned the location, the project’s effect on property values and its environmental value.
“I didn’t hear you [Fischer] address the direct benefits to the individual homeowners,” Burry said, asking what the advantages are for Bayshore residents once the turbine is erected. “I realize the long-range benefit is you are providing, or you will be selling, energy that will be harnessed from the wind.”
Fischer said a three-prong component of BRSA rate reductions would be occurring in 2012: retiring the debt associated with the upgrade of the sewage plant in 1995; grant money and rebates from both the DEP and the BPU; and savings from the wind-to-energy project.
The BRSA has 22,000 connections to their system, not customers. The authority bills eight different municipalities by dividing its expenses for the year and coming up with a flow rate.
“As a result of that, the ARRA funding and the retirement of debt, in 2012 we are projecting we are going to be able to lower sewer rates by 20 percent,” he said. “In 2013, we are going to be lowering the sewer rate by another 15 percent.”
In response, Burry, who is also the owner and broker of Colts Neck Realty in Colts Neck, asked about the effect on real estate values. Fischer said the BRSA has not conducted a professional study about real estate values in the Bayshore area, but the authority uses two national studies about property values and wind turbines, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy office in Berkeley, Calif., that found no adverse effect on property values for homes located near wind turbines or wind farms, he said.
Freeholder John Curley said the freeholders received questions from residents about how the aesthetic value of Union Beach and the surrounding Bayshore neighborhoods would change once the turbine is constructed.
“One of the most beautiful aesthetic aspects is the bay,” Curley said. “How do you respond to people saying you are going to be hindering the view and the horizon of that region?”
Fischer explained that one large turbine, logistically, is a better fit for the amount of space on the property because the amount of pipes, tanks, electrical material and existing infrastructure would not support two small turbines, which would reduce energy output.
The turbine is being erected on BRSA property because the area outside the plant is surrounded by wetlands, which are not permitted for construction by the DEP.
“There are people that believe it is an eyesore and there are people that believe it is a tranquil-looking piece of equipment,” he said. Fischer said the BRSA also looked into solar energy to mount onto the roofs, but determined that solar power was not feasible because there was not enough room on the property to install 1.5 megawatts worth of grids.
As an alternative, Freeholder Amy Mallet suggested mounting the solar power grids on the ground level or parking lot of the BRSA property, but Fischer said the authority would require 6 acres of land, which already have existing infrastructure.
Despite the presentation, Burry remains concerned about the project.
“I don’t think you [Fischer] really sold the affected public, those who will be impacted by it visually, audibly or in any way, what the benefits will be to them directly,” Burry said. “I think you spoke in generalities, but specifically you said it [savings] will trickle down to them. Maybe, that is, if the local municipality is able to reduce their [sewer] taxes or costs to the authority.”
She added, “I think, basically, as we heard the complaints from people in our traveling, that this was not properly vetted.”
The Board of Chosen Freeholders took no action on the wind-to-energy presentation.