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North Bergen weighing clean energy initiatives

Township Counsel Tom Kobin addressed green initiatives at the Sept. 8 meeting.
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Township Counsel Tom Kobin addressed green initiatives at the Sept. 8 meeting.

North Bergen is weighing two clean energy proposals, including a resolution that would condemn the proposed gas-fired power plant in Newark and a proposal for a community energy program.

Condemning Ironbound plant

The township is still reviewing resolutions proposed by North Bergen resident Bill McClellan and other members of the public regarding the proposed Passaic Valley Sewer Commission (PVSC) power plant in the Ironbound section of Newark, according to Township Counsel Tom Kobin. In the past, the Board of Commissioners has condemned the proposal of the NJ TransitGrid fracked-gas power plant in Kearny and called for the closure of the PSE&G Bergen Generating Station gas-fired power plant in Ridgefield.

“McClellan had raised this issue at the past couple of meetings,” Kobin said at the Sept. 8 commissioners meeting. “The power plant is presumed to be a gas fire power plant that would enable Passaic Valley to power the system in the event of a storm like Hurricane Sandy, where they were without power for 72 hours.”

The Food and Water Watch of New Jersey has proposed a similar resolution to the board condemning the proposal. Kobin said that some facts about the plant are disputed between Food and Water Watch and PVSC.

Who’s right?

“Food and Water Watch is saying this can be done with renewables,” Kobin said. “PVSC is saying it can’t be done with renewables. Food and Water Watch is also saying that this is a ‘peaker plant,’ which is a type of power plant where there’s high demands on energy. If there’s a heat wave, a ‘peaker plant’ would be used by PVSC could to power their system and not be using the grid to avoid brownouts and things of that nature. PVSC is saying it’s no longer designed to be a ‘peaker plant.’”

To get to the bottom of it, Kobin has asked Neglia Engineering to look into the power plant. Kobin said Neglia was chosen over the township’s engineers, Boswell and Remington, because it works for PVSC and wanted to avoid the conflict. According to Kobin, the township has also asked attorneys from Florio Kenny Raval to look at the proposal.

“I’ve asked Neglia engineering to look at what both parties are saying and give us their take on this,” Kobin said. “I’ve also asked the Florio Kenny Raval firm to quarterback this and look at it and give us their opinions on it.”

Kobin said the township will get a report on this by the next commissioner’s meeting or the meeting after the engineers and attorneys. The township will then make a decision on the resolution to condemn the proposed power plant.

Community energy aggregation program

Kobin shared details about the community energy aggregation project proposed by residents and members of the public at previous meetings.

“That’s a program whereby a town enters an agreement with an energy provider, and the residents in the town are made customers of that energy provider unless they opt out,” Kobin said. “The residents would have to opt out, otherwise they’re mandatorily in the program and buying their energy from whoever the township selects as the energy provider.”

Mayor Nicholas Sacco and other township have opposed the program’s opt out aspect. Sacco previously said: “The opt-in opt-out program is a disaster,” Sacco said. “You don’t know what it’s like to try to force on people.”

“We want to research it and figure out where it’s been implemented and how it’s worked,” Kobin said.

Residents shared the names of towns that have used the program. “We did contact those towns, and as far as we can decipher right now, none of them have adopted an energy aggregation program,” Kobin said.

Not in Hudson yet?

According to Kobin, Hoboken has a program for purchasing energy for its municipal buildings, but it’s not a mandatory program for residents. Bayonne had such a program, but it was rescinded, Kobin said. He is waiting on further documentation to figure out why.

Weehawken is currently researching the program, according to Kobin. Jersey City and West New York have no programs at this time, but the latter is looking to have one in the future.

Kobin said the township is going to send a letter to each Hudson County municipality from Township Administrator Janet Castro asking for more information.

“We’re going to find out what they’re doing with this energy aggregation program and give us the benefit of what they’re looking at and what they’ve researched,” Kobin said.

Kobin said that he’s spoken with the township’s energy consultant, who is working on getting more background information on the program.

Reducing carbon footprint

The township is continuing to reduce its carbon footprint and deal with green energy, according to Kobin.

North Bergen is currently in the process of converting municipal buildings to LED lighting, “which is reducing our carbon footprint greatly,” according to Kobin. All heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units in municipal buildings have been converted to more efficient units.

A bike share program is in the works. Kobin said the township previously put together a bidding process for a bike share program, but there were no bidders.

Now, the township is working on a co-op bike share program in which towns can get together and take bids.

“Then it might be more effective for a vendor to bid on,” Kobin said.

The North Bergen Parking Authority installed charging stations for electric cars at the municipal parking lot on 5th and Liberty. In the bid documents for parking facilities in the township, a component requires the construction of charging stations.

Green infrastructure

Water storage cisterns are being installed beneath municipal buildings for storm water management, like one under Town Hall to reduce storm water runoff. The township is incorporating them into bid documents so they are constructed when renovating municipal buildings.

The township is seeking an energy supplier for municipal buildings that uses more renewable energy.

“We want to try and do things where you’re reducing the carbon footprint using renewable energy here in New Jersey,” Kobin said. “If you just buy credits, which a lot of people do, you might be subsidizing something out in California, which is good for the globe of course, but we want to try and reduce emissions here in the state so it’s more immediate. We’re working with our energy consultant looking at other alternatives to use renewable energy as a source.”

The North Bergen Board of Education has installed solar panels on its roof. The township is in discussions with the board and the vendor to see if some municipal buildings are tailored for it.

The public responds

A representative of North Bergen Earth Talks, identified only as ‘Ms. Sustainability,’ thanked the board for looking into community energy aggregation.

Sam DiFalco of Food and Water Watch thanked the commissioners for looking into the resolution for the power plant and encouraged the township to also embrace the community energy aggregation program.

“Last week’s devastating storm reminds us that we have no time to lose when it comes to fighting climate change,” DiFalco said. “One thing North Bergen can do right now is help lower emissions associated with electricity usage in the township.”

DiFalco pointed to community energy aggregate programs successfully implemented in Edison, Red Bank, and Collingswood, and East Brunswick is in the process of starting one.

Cost savings?

A member of the public said residents have saved $100 a year on community programs compared to default PSE&G, and it would bring “great cost savings” to North Bergen residents.

“I know that there is some concern about this program being a default opt out and also concern that residents may feel like it is forced on them, but this program actually gives residents a choice or another option than the default monopoly utility or those renewable energy options that are offered by third parties but always end up costing more and locking residents in,” DiFalco said. “Residents can opt out of the program contract if it is something they don’t want to do.”

DiFalco urged North Bergen to start a cooperative program with other Hudson County municipalities, akin to the Sustainable Essex Alliance, for community energy aggregation.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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