Water, Wastewater Plants Waiting to Tap Into Energy Resilience Bank

With $150 million in projects in the pipeline and $65 million in funding pool, state may have more takers than it can service

water wastewater
The state’s newly formed Energy Resilience Bank is finding no shortage of applicants from water and wastewater-treatment plants that want to take advantage of a pool of money to help minimize the impact of extreme weather, such as Hurricane Sandy.

So far, the bank has $150 million in projects in the pipeline seeking to tap into $65 million set aside to make those facilities more resilient, according to Mitch Carpen, its executive director.

Other facilities, particularly hospitals, are lining up to receive funding from the overall $200 million the federal government has allocated to New Jersey to reduce outages affecting critical facilities throughout the state.

Sandy demonstrated just how vulnerable these facilities were to power outages during major storms, which many officials agree is part of the ‘’new normal.’’ Where the funding is going to come from to address those problems is unresolved.

During the storm 91 sewage-treatment plants either flooded or lost power, spewing as much as 5 billion gallons of raw sewage into state waterways. Nearly one-third –267 of 604 public water systems — also lost power, leading to 37 boil water advisories.

Power outages led two hospitals to be completely evacuated and another partially, according to Mark Hopkins, executive director of the New Jersey Health Care Facilities Financing Authority. Thirty-eight of the state’s 72 hospitals lost power during Sandy, with five of them in the dark for six days or more, he said.

All of these facilities have backed up power sources from diesel generators, but since the storm also knocked out the state’s refineries, they were unable to replenish the fuel as restoration efforts continued.

The problems were not unique to New Jersey. Between 2007-2012, there were 679 weather-related outages affecting 50,000 or more customers, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“It demonstrates the aging (power grid) infrastructure,’’ said Gearoid Foley, a senior advisor for the U.S. Department of Energy. He is a big proponent of developing locally based combined heat-and-power (CHP) plants, which provide both electricity and thermal power. The latter can be used to both cool and heat facilities, such as hospitals, which depend upon power 24 hours a day.

“Let’s fix the facilities at the local level,’’ Foley said, an option that would be a lot cheaper than upgrading a century-old power grid. The state’s Energy Master Plan also backs CHP projects, but efforts to develop them have lagged behind goals established by the Christie administration.

To address the problem, the bank is proposing to fund distribution projects that can provide electricity to local facilities even when the power grid crashes, as it did during Sandy.

The projects eligible for funding from the bank include CHP plants, fuel cells, solar arrays, and microgrids — small-scale versions of a conventional centralized power system.

With $200 million going to the bank from the federal government, the funding will fall far short of the demand, according to Carpen.

“It is not nearly enough to make a dent in overall needs,’’ he said. By one projection the state needs to spend $5 billion to make its critical facilities more resilient, he said.

Beyond the bank, there are other options available to facilities to increase resiliency. They include a much-smaller fund from the state Economic Development Authority, money set aside from ratepayers on their utility bills, and financing from the New Jersey Health Care Facilities Financing Authority.

Hospitals are particularly anxious to tap into those funds. They pressed Carpen at a forum sponsored by Fox Rothschild in Lawrenceville earlier this week as to when the bank is going to make funding available to those facilities.

Carpen was noncommittal. “We hope to get it out sooner than later,’’ he said.

Beyond water and healthcare facilities, the bank’s priorities for funding resiliency include transit, education, and public housing, according to Carpen.