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BPU Seeks Applications to Develop Energy Storage for Renewable Sources

Without reliable backup for solar and wind systems, state not likely to achieve ambitious goals to increase use of alternative energy

kinsley solar farm
PSE&G is building its largest grid-supply solar array at the site of the Kinsley landfill.

The state is seeking applications to finance energy-storage projects that would provide backup power from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, in the event of widespread outages on the grid.

The Board of Public Utilities has set aside $6 million in incentives for energy storage, a technology that is crucial to the goal of increasing New Jersey’s reliance on renewable energy.

Half of the money is targeted at critical facilities like water- and wastewater-treatment plants and schools -- many of which were left without power for days -- to help ensure that they remain in service even if large parts of the power grid fails, as happened during Hurricane Sandy. How the remaining money is to be used will be decided later this year based on research by Rutgers University’s Laboratory for Energy Smart Systems.

The state agency has made increasing the resilience of the power grid a top priority. Besides funding renewable-energy projects, it has set aside money to build smaller power plants near major facilities so they, too, remain in service if there are prolonged outages from storms.

Energy-storage systems are widely viewed as key to achieving the state’s aggressive renewable energy goals, especially if a push to increase reliance on cleaner power systems wins legislative approval. Without effective energy storage, the state will never achieve those goals because of the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy.

The state’s current target calls for 22.5 percent of the electricity used in New Jersey to come from renewable energy by 2020. The Senate, however, has approved a bill (S-2444) calling for 80 percent of electricity to be supplied by renewable energy by 2050, although the measure is not expected to win final approval before the end of the current legislative session next week.

Because of efforts by the Obama administration to combat global climate change, states will be under pressure to develop less-polluting forms of energy, including renewable sources.

About 15 percent of the state’s energy mix comes from renewable sources, most of that from out-of-state systems, according to a recent update of the Energy Master Plan. Nearly 3 percent of that mix comes from solar systems.

While energy-storage systems are still in their early stages, the price for the systems is dropping rapidly as the technology to build them grows more efficient and advanced.

This is the second year the agency has funded energy storage. Last year, it gave out $2.9 million to 13 projects after receiving 22 applications. The incentives were awarded to schools, a municipal complex in Jersey City, and wastewater treatment facilities. Twelve of the 13 systems were given incentives largely to provide backup power to solar deployments; the final award went to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, which has five wind turbines in Atlantic City.

Funding for the program is derived from a surcharge on customers’ utility bills, which is used by the BPU to finance a variety of clean-energy projects. This year’s overall clean-energy budget, which began July 1, is approximately $344 million.

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