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BPU Wants to Double Energy-Storage Technology Allocation to $6 Million

Energy storage key to meeting state’s aggressive renewable-energy goals, boosting resiliency of power grid

wind farm atlantic city
Atlantic City wind farm.

The state wants to double the $3 million it awarded in the current fiscal year for energy-storage projects, a technology crucial to the goal of having more electricity produced from renewable sources, such as solar and wind.

In next year’s draft Clean Energy Program budget, the state would increase the incentives for energy storage initiatives to $6 million. The priority is to ensure that critical facilities like schools and wastewater treatment plants can keep up and running when the power grid fails, as it did during Hurricane Sandy.

Even though New Jersey has more than 35,000 renewable-energy systems installed, virtually all were knocked out of service by the widespread outages caused by the storm, largely because they could not operate independently of the traditional power grid.

The state’s pilot energy-storage program is aimed at fixing that problem by equipping critical facilities with systems that would let them operate even in the case of an extreme storm that shuts down the grid.

“The profile of a number of renewable-energy projects offers the opportunity for storage,’’ said Scott Hunter, renewable energy program administrator for the Office of Clean Energy in the state Board of Public Utilities.

According to a consultant retained by the state, up to 750 megawatts of renewable energy can accommodate nearby energy storage, Hunter said. In March, 12 of the 13 systems awarded incentives were largely to provide backup power to solar deployments; the other went to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, which has five wind turbines in Atlantic City.

The awards went to public schools and one private school and a municipal complex in Jersey City that treats sewage before discharging it into New Jersey’s waterways. Many of those facilities were shut down during and after Hurricane Sandy, and ended up dumping billions of gallons of raw sewage into state waters.

Energy-storage systems are widely viewed as key to achieving the state’s aggressive renewable-energy targets, which call for 22.5 percent of electricity produced by renewables by 2020. (There is a bill pending in the Legislature that would ramp up that goal to 80 percent by 2050).

Without effective energy-storage systems, the state will never achieve those targets, given the intermittent nature of solar and wind power: The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Development of new energy storage systems also is in line with state efforts to make the power system more resilient in the event of extreme storms.

At this point, the state is still trying to figure out what works. “We’re on a steep learning curve right now,’’ Hunter acknowledged during a stakeholder meeting on the issue on Friday.

The state is proposing to spend $344.7 million on clean-energy programs in the upcoming budget year, which is essentially on a par with the current spending program. The budget for the coming fiscal year is July 1, a deadline mandated by the state constitution.

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