Report to BPU Lists Top Untapped Renewable Energy Sources

Tom Johnson | October 10, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Power from onshore wind, ocean waves called worth considering in NJ

If New Jersey wants, it could develop new ways of producing electricity that rely on yet-untapped sources of renewable energy to produce cleaner power for homes and businesses.

At least that is what a consultant suggested to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in a report designed to help the state agency frame funding priorities for renewable energy over the next few years.

The report, by Navigant Energy, cites onshore wind, inland hydro-electric projects, tapping energy produced by the ocean, and energy storage technologies as among approaches worth considering.

“There wasn’t anything we thought was a slam dunk,’’ said Lisa Frantziz of the Massachusetts-based firm. But she added that, given the right state policies, “There’s a lot of them up here worth pursuing.’’

Many of the technologies face technical and economic hurdles. None of the 14 major technologies assessed by the consultant rated a “good’ resource availability nor a current technical potential in New Jersey, the highest ranking awarded by the organization.

The report comes at a time when the BPU is under increasing criticism from business interests over the high costs of its clean energy program, which has cost utility customers, mainly large companies and institutions more than $2.4 billion over the past 11 years.

The report did not address solar energy, the renewable energy technology being pursued most aggressvely by New Jersey, nor offshore wind.

The state hopes to become a hub for the offshore wind industry by building 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind farms, a strategy the Christie administration hopes will attract segments of the offshore wind manufacturing sector.

By most accounts, New Jersey is doing well in tapping the sun to provide electricity to homeowners and businesses. By the beginning of this month, 900 megawatts of solar –energy systems, or more than 17,000 arrays, had been installed in New Jersey, which ranks second only to California in the nation.

Perhaps the most attractive of the new renewable energy technologies suggested by the consultant are onshore wind projects on a utility scale, which could provide up to 132 megawatts of new generating capacity. The cost of such projects was the most competitive, ranging between 6 cents to 7 cents a kilowatt hour, which compares favorably with the cents per kilowatt hour cost most residents pay for the cost of generating electricity purchased in last February’s auction by the four electric utilities.

Those costs, however, do not include the cost of delivering the electricity over distribution and transmission lines, as well as various surcharges, which increase the overall cost to consumers to about 16 cents a kilowatt hour.

The best locations for developing onshore wind capacity are along the coast of New Jersey, with some of the most viable locations located above Atlantic City, according to the report.

One obstacle to developing those resources, however, is the potential expiration of a federal Production Tax Credit at the end of this year. That could have important implications for the economic viability of those projects, according to Frantziz.

The other most attractive renewable energy technology—at least from a cost perspective—was to harness the energy from ocean waves, according to the report. The cost of of that energy would range between 8 cents and 10 cents per kilowatt hour. The report suggested there is a potential of developing 975 megawatts of ocean–hydro power.

Other areas the state should explore include energy storage, which is essential to the development of intermittent renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, according to the report. It identified the potential to develop up to 800 megawatts of storage capacity through several new technologies.

The report was less optimistic about developing fuel cells, which convert various fuels into electricity, including renewables, as the cost was projected at much higher than other energy sources.