It could take up to 19 years to see an profits from a proposed municipal solar energy project, the township engineer said recently.
Township Engineer Alan J. Dittenhofer gave Township Council members an update on a proposal by Blue Sky Solar to provide solar power at the March 13 council meeting.
Dittenhofer said he although he felt Blue Sky's estimates were low, profits generated by solar energy in general continue to drop.
"So obviously, the advantage there is dropping quickly," Dittenhofer said.
Dittenhofer said his projections show the township not making a profit on a solar array until 19 years into the project. But he said he would like to take a “deeper look” and give Blue Sky time to revise their numbers before giving a recommendation to the council.
Council President James J. Byrnes then suggested an alternative energy workshop meeting be held to explore “different kinds of clean energy.”
“Solar is kind of dead," Byrnes said.
He suggested inviting professionals from several different energy companies to speak and give them each 10 to 15 minutes to outline what their technology could provide the township.
Council members then voted to schedule a special one-hour workshop meeting on alternative energy plans for 6 p.m. on March 27 in Town Hall, an hour before the Township Council meeting.
A number of residents went to the microphone to talk about the potential of using wind turbines and solar panels for municipal energy
One asked Dittenhofer about his opinion on the viability of wind turbines.
He said that Ocean Gate, where he also serves as engineer, has had a turbine in operation for two years. He said the anticipated savings from the turbine were originally estimated at 80 percent, but the actual savings have been closer to 65 percent.
While the Ocean Gate turbine may not have lived up to its original promise “there is significant energy savings there," he said.
Berkeley has an advantageous site for a turbine away from residential areas, although Dittenhofer did not specify the location.
Councilman John Bacchione said he would like to see other energy vendors besides solar attend the March 27 meeting.
“We want to cover all our bases and not be left behind,” Bacchione said.
Resident Henry Labate urged the council to be “very skeptical” when it comes to wind power. Labate said he is an electrical engineer and that in his experience wind is not a good substitute for traditional electric.
“The wind does not blow all the time," he said. "You need a (back-up) plant ready—gas, coal, nuclear—so the cost remediation is not there. You need to keep the (back-up) plant up since you can’t just turn a switch and get the power on,” said Labate.
“I’m not saying this wind power is something we shouldn’t look at, just that we have to be skeptical,” he added.
Resident Nick Mackres said he is a manager of Toms River-based renewable energy company that serviced $55 million in contracts last year.
He advised against municipal governments purchasing solar panels because they are not eligible for the federal tax credits that make the projects worthwhile fiscally.
Byrnes offered to show Mackres the spreadsheet of Blue Sky’s proposal and then meet with him privately to discuss his concerns prior to the energy workshop meeting.
Sam Cammarato, president of the Berkeley Township Taxpayers Coalition and a member of the township's Environmental Commission, spoke in favor of alternative energy programs.
He said he had been in contact with the Hatch Mott MacDonald Company, which designs large wind turbines.
Cammarato said it's a myth that the turbines kill migratory birds. As proof he said the National Audubon Society favors wind turbines.
Cammarato said the township has an ideal site for a wind turbine at the former AT&T building off Bayview Avenue.
Since the site is an “eyesore,” replacing it with a turbine should not generate many “not-in-my-backyard” complaints. He added the AT&T site is surrounded by 250 acres so it would not impede on residential areas.
Cammarato agreed the township “should not jump in too quickly.”
The company he spoke with can erect the pole for a turbine with computer sensors and collect data for up to one year before installing the turbine itsel. That way the the township would have an accurate estimate of how much power would be generated at a prospective site.
“What I like about wind turbines, and I am in no way against solar, is the foundation is 16 feet," Cammarato said. "Now it sits 200-feet high, moves at four miles per hour and can provide energy for hundreds of homes. You would need an acre of solar panels to meet the energy a turbine can provide in 16 feet.”
Cammarato also said Hatch Mott MacDonald also has proposals on geothermal energy that the committee could review if interested. He said his conversations with them indicated the Jersey Shore is suited for geothermal energy projects because of its sandy soil.