Sandy Action Plan Would Give Critical Sites Money They Can Bank On

Energy Resiliency Bank would distribute federal funds to keep lights on at key facilities even if power grid goes down

transmission towers
The state is trying to flesh out details of a proposed $200 million Energy Resiliency Bank that would dole out federal funds to projects aimed at curtailing outages during extreme weather.

The proposal, submitted to the federal government in February, would provide money to critical facilities, such as water and wastewater treatment plants, hospitals, and schools, that need to keep the lights on and power running — even if the rest of the power grid fails.

Many details about how the bank would work and how much and what type of financial assistance would be given to recipients remain to be decided. The state Board of Public Utilities and New Jersey Economic Development Authority hope to begin sorting out answers in a couple of webinars scheduled next week with stakeholders.

The bank is one of the initiatives outlined by the state in a Sandy Action Plan detailing how it would spend an additional $1.4 billion in federal aid to recover from the hurricane that left much of the Jersey Shore devastated and more than 2.8 million people without power.

The question of how to make the power grid more reliable has been at the top of the list ever since the storm, with much of the focus on so-called distributed generation, or localized power plants, and other systems that can provide backup power when the grid goes down.

In the plan, the state cites several different technologies that might be adopted, ranging from smaller, but more efficient power plants to deliver electricity to facilities when the grid fails, to fuel cells and solar systems that can store the electricity their systems produce. Fuel cells generate power by converting hydrogen into electricity.

“The bank is designed to support projects that incorporate energy technologies that are resilient in order to allow the infrastructure to continue even if the larger electric grid fails,’’ according to the report.

The demand to undertake such projects is immense in the wake of Sandy. Approximately 800 energy resiliency projects were identified by 425 municipalities, counties, and other government entities, making it the largest single-most requested type of mitigation designated by New Jersey jurisdictions, indicated the report.

How far the $200 million will go — trimmed down from an original proposal of $210 million — when so many applicants are seeking funding is a concern to some.

“It’s better to concentrate the money at meaningful amounts,’’ said Gearoid Foley, New Jersey director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Mid-Atlantic Clean Energy Application Center. “Spreading the amount of money and giving out $100,000 isn’t going to get anywhere.’’

Foley has been one of the prime advocates of the state targeting money to build combined heat and power plants, facilities that produce both electricity and heat simultaneously. One such plant at Princeton University kept the power running even as the surrounding town was without power during Hurricane Sandy.

Fred DeSanti, a lobbyist who also is pushing the state to provide funding to so-called CHP plants, agreed with Foley. “You can go through $200 million pretty quickly,’’ he said.

For instance, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, the state’s largest wastewater treatment facility, lost power for days during the storm, spewing hundreds of millions of raw sewage into waterways.

During Sandy, 94 wastewater treatment facilities in all|21 counties suffered failure or disruption] of their operations, according to the Sandy Action plan.

A CHP plant at the commission’s Newark facility could easily run as much as $50 million, according to DeSanti. Even with the Energy Resiliency Bank, the state needs to develop a sustainable source of financing CHP plants, he said. Both the Legislature and the BPU are dealing with that issue, but with little progress.

Precisely how the money in the bank will be allocated remains to be decided. The Sandy Action Plan mentions general priorities, including facilities that protect life or property; helping develop microgrid systems to provide localized power as Hoboken envisions; and considering various renewable energy projects.