New Jersey Regulators Take High Touch Approach to Community Microgrids

New Jersey regulators are taking a high touch approach to developing community microgrids, conducting a series of publicly announced visits to towns that won state grants for feasibility studies.

“It’s good for me, it’s good for my colleagues, to see the nuts and bolts of these projects, what they are going to look like and which facilities they will incorporate,” said Richard Mroz, president of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge.

Last week the board visited the town of Neptune, this week it was Woodbridge, two of 13 winners of the grants, which totaled $2,052,480. The board is giving special attention to the projects following an enthusiastic reaction from New Jersey communities to the grant program. The board had originally planned to allot $1 million in grants, but doubled the budget based on the interest in the program and strength of the applications.

Hard hit by Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey expects the community microgrids to improve resilience. But Mroz also sees the microgrids as a window into the future of electric grid modernization. And the projects, fortunately, will offer a wide window because they use a range of technologies – combined heat and power, hydro and other distributed energy resources.

Mroz also sees a plus in the geographic distribution of the projects. Applicants from all four utility service territories proposed community microgrids. “It will give us an opportunity to explore with those companies the regulatory issues that we will need to confront,” he said

The board brought the utilities into the program early, requiring that applicants have their signoff to move forward.

“We communicated to the distribution companies that we would initiate conversations with them concurrently on what there might need to be in terms of any tariff revisions, for example, that might be necessary, or if they see any regulatory obstacles,” he said.

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More funding possible

After the feasibility studies are complete, the board will decide the level of any further project funding. The BPU has a lot of flexibility because it did not need to go to the state legislature to secure money for the program. The feasibility grants came from a $300 million clean energy fund administered for renewables, combined heat and power and energy efficiency.

“We’ll hope to continue to use that [fund] for these purposes. We just don’t know if in the future there would need to be other, more aggressive efforts. We’ll wait to see what the next round of need for this funding is,” he said.

Mroz said that he’s finding strong understanding of microgrids in the towns they visit. In Monmouth County, for example, Neptune already has a strong sense of the possibilities because the local hospital kept its lights on during Superstorm Sandy using microgrid-like technology.

community microgrids

Neptune Township

A 620-bed hospital, the Jersey Shore University Medical Center powered its entire facility during Sandy by islanding its CHP system in advance of the storm.

“It was business as usual throughout,” said Douglas Campbell, senior manager of plant operations and risk management at the hospital.

The power stayed on by way of the hospital’s 5.7 MW on-site CHP system and emergency generators, using a propriety control system (not a full microgrid). The hospital has since added an additional 2 MW to the system.

Hospital officials are eager to explore the idea of participating in a community-wide microgrid. As conceived, the microgrid would include the hospital and 11 other critical facilities. Project partners are the Neptune Township School Board, Neptune Township Housing Authority, Monmouth County and several private sector entities

Community microgrids serve state energy plan

The BPU says that the community microgrid program furthers the State Energy Master Plan, which prioritizes energy resiliency and use of distributed energy and microgrids.

In addition to Neptune and Woodbridge, others that won grants to study community microgrids are: Atlantic City, Camden County, Cape May County MUA, Galloway Township, Highland Park, Hoboken, Hudson County, Middletown Township, Montclair Township,  Paterson and the State of New Jersey/Trenton.

Track news about community microgrids by following Microgrid Knowledge on Twitter @MicrogridNews.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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