NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - For the past several years, the city has been pushing for a green approach to urban living, with the goal of lowering New Brunswick’s eco-footprint and electric bill.
In December 2017, the city council voted to expand a solar panel project that’s been in the works since 2009.
Under this project, solar panels are used for generating electricity for buildings owned by the city, school district and parking authority.
“Solar as a method of energy generation has proven to be eco-friendly and modern and we've been pleased with this arrangement thus far,” said city spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw.
Following the December 2017 resolution, new panels will be installed in the AC Redshaw School, the Lincoln School Annex and the district administration building.
They are currently installed at the New Street, Plum Street and Church Street parking decks, the high school and middle school, and the city’s water treatment plant.
City officials will be setting up more panels at the middle and high school, on top of what’s already there, as well as the carports at AC Redshaw School on Livingston Avenue.
Those are the only city-owned buildings deemed viable locations to install solar panels, Bradshaw said.
For New Brunswick, solar-generated electricity works through a 15-year power-purchase agreement. The city contracts with NBS Energy Partners, which installs and owns the panels.
New Brunswick, in turn, purchases that electricity from NBS, according to a contract signed in 2009.
The rates charged for solar electricity have generally been considered lower than a conventional arrangement with a utility company, such as PSEG.
At the water utility site, the city paid $611,543 over a seven-year period, according to Bradshaw. The current rate is $0.12 per kilowatt hour (kWh), which is the basic billing unit for electricity.
The water utility’s energy consumption over that seven year period, through the panels, was 5,030,000 kilowatt hours.
At New Brunswick’s schools, the energy consumption at the buildings was just shy of 3.4 million kWh during the 2016-2017 year, paying a rate of 7 cents per kWh.
One school official estimated the district saved $237,616 on the electric bill last year, by using solar panels rather than PSEG.
Solar panels have other benefits that might not be as immediately obvious as cost-saving and green technology.
Following Superstorm Sandy, municipalities across the state have been looking to set up their own self-sufficient microgrids, which could operate if a power plant is compromised.
“It’s a resiliency thing, rather than being on this huge grid that everyone’s on,” said Frank Marshall, an attorney at the New Jersey League of Municipalities
“You have to use your own infrastructure.”
But by and large, city officials believe eco-friendly technology has its perks.
In 2014, New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill touted the solar panels as one of over a dozen eco-friendly programs the public schools were adopting, through the statewide Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP).
The measures could save as much as $18 million in energy costs over a 17-year period, according to the 2014 statement.
With one measure, nearly all of the school district’s lighting has been converted to energy-saving LEDs, which use occupancy sensors to automatically turn off lighting to a room or area not in use.
The high school, middle school and McKinley School have installed a cogeneration plant. During the winter, the district uses natural gas to generate electricity, and the plants in those buildings trap the byproducts and use them to heat the buildings.
School buildings have also employed automated building-management controls. When a school is unoccupied, such as during the weekend or evening, a pre-installed computer program automatically adjusts temperatures to reduce energy use.