Neptune plans for emergency back-up energy system

BY Andrew Schmertz, Correspondent |

Only light rain fell, but the talk in Neptune was of hurricane season and with it, the potential for violent weather that can cause major power failures. So, the town has plans for a self-contained power source known as a microgrid. Town officials say the layout of Neptune’s key buildings make this a worthy goal.

“We have a unique situation,” explained Neptune’s business administrator Vito Gadaleta. “If you look around us, we have a campus setup here, with the hospital, school, municipal buildings and just over the hill, New Jersey Central Power & Light substation. So we have a unique opportunity here.”

Neptune is one of 13 state municipalities that is getting money from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to study building microgrids. One hundred fifty thousand dollars will be spent on a feasibility study, expected to be completed by early next year.

“It’s the opportunity to look at how we can integrate the full energy distribution resources for resiliency, but also to explore what is happening all over the country, which is the evolution of the grid. In New Jersey, we’ve had a focus on energy distribution resources,” said NJ BPU President Richard Mroz.

The proposed microgrid will connect 12 critical facilities with emergency power. Those include the Jersey Shore University Medical Center, the town municipal building, locations of first responders and the high school.

NJTV News got a tour of the medical center, which already has a self-contained power generator. It uses both diesel and natural gas and was crucial to the hospital during Superstorm Sandy.

“We were able to maintain normal operations, near normal operations, during that event that occurred,” remembered Doug Campbell, senior risk manager at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “We went into island mode where we were able to support our whole facility to continue to provide care for our patients with no interruptions.”

The feasibility studies are being financed by the state’s Clean Energy Fund and many of the municipalities are bringing different ideas to the table in how they can generate self-contained power centers. For example, Paterson plans to expand the use of the Great Falls.

“The applications are dispersed all throughout the state in different regions,” Mroz said. “They build on the characteristics. Like the one here has combined heat and power units. Some have resources like fuel cells, or solar or renewable generation sources.”

Most of the technology to create microgrids isn’t new, so there are some questions as to why it has taken the state so long to jump-start them.

BPU Commissioner Joe Fiordaliso offered one possible explanation for the delay.

“I think it takes a while to accept that technology. We had the same problem when solar was introduced in the early 2000s. In the state of New Jersey, we had six solar installations. We have over 75,000 now. It’s a matter of acceptance,” he said.

If the study shows a microgrid will work in Neptune, the towns must then find the political juice to raise the money to build them. It’s expected three or four hurricane seasons will pass before any microgrids go on line.