When your grandchild takes over the family business, he very probably will not be held hostage by oil. Even the most optimistic estimates are giving this universal fuel only four more decades before the wells run dry. Other forms of cleaner, more renewable energy will take over.
Having seen this handwriting on the wall, many companies are making the green shift now, while there are lots of new technologies and rebates are plentiful.
To help business people make the transition toward environmental sanity, the New Jersey Technology Council offers “Green Homes, Green Cars, and Green Workplaces” on Thursday, May 25, at 8 a.m. at Rowan College of Engineering in Glassboro. Cost: $60. Visit www.njtc.org. The seminar consists of three panels discussing each of the three topics.
Green Workplace panelists include Brent Alderfer, president of Community Energy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, who speaks on the newly built Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm; Margaret Piliere of the New Jersey Development Authority, who explains green funding; Paul Savage of NexTek Power Systems; and representatives of Liberty Realty Trust and PNC Bank, who discuss their commercial green building projects.
Attorney, engineer, and environmentalist, Alderfer has throughout his career acquired all the skills needed to make wind power a commercial reality. For generations the Alderfer clan ran the independent Hennings Supermarket in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, giving him an entrepreneurial taste early on. After earning his electrical engineering degree from Northeastern University, Alderfer took his law degree from Georgetown University, and began practicing in Philadelphia.
By l990 wanderlust hit and Alderfer found himself in Colorado as the commissioner of the Public Utilities Board. “I held that post for nine years and that’s really where I saw the need, and the potential, for clean, renewable energy,” Alderfer says. In l999 he returned east and founded Community Energy (www.communityenergy.biz.). By 2001 the company had become a major builder and supplier of wind farm energy to Mid-Atlantic power grids.
Powering up with clean energy has become increasingly less expensive and infinitely easier within the last few years. Businesses going green are no longer pioneers, but purchasers of well-tested technology, following well-prescribed paths.
Sailboat fuel. On April 14, the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, the state’s first, set blades to the wind and began selling energy. Community Energy, with backing by global energy investment giants Babcock and Brown, and the CH Energy Group, invested $12 million to erect the five turbines along the Atlantic City shore on the edge of the town’s water treatment plant.
Each turbine consists of three 120-foot long blades whirling atop a 260-foot high white steel post. Rotating at 10 to 20 revolutions per minute, the outer edges spin around at 120 mph, and churn out 1.5 megawatts of energy each.
These megawatts are fed into the power grid, greatly lessening energy-created pollution. The Department of Environmental Protection estimates that this wind farm, capable of powering 2,500 homes, reduces air particles equivalent to 19 million miles of automobile driving.
Snatching the wind. A business seeking to grab its share of this totally clean renewable energy can sign up either through Community Energy or can register through its current energy provider via the State Utilities Board (www.njcleanenergy.com). The applying company still receives its power from the power grid. No windmills or cables come in behind your plant. But you are specifically ordering a share of this wind energy.
The bad news is that this clean, renewable energy currently costs a little more. Typically it comes to an additional 1.3 cents per kilowatt hour. Alderfer explains that because this farm is small, the costs are higher. Community Energy’s much larger Pennsylvania plant has substantially lower costs. Ironically, one factor that has made the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm’s cost rise is that the price of oil drove up construction costs. But Alderfer points to several long-established Colorado farms where wind is currently cheaper than traditionally produced electricity.
Business owners can also order just a share of their electricity usage from the wind. A firm can agree to pay a stated amount, perhaps $100, above its standard PSE&G bill and get as great a percent of its energy in wind as that extra cash will buy.
“Even with this higher cost,” notes Alderfer, “I have been very surprised at how eagerly companies have signed on to wind power and how loyally they have renewed contracts.” The good impression that opting for clean energy makes on both employees and customers is frequently cited as one major reason for undertaking the small extra cost.
Blowing controversy. Though totally clean, getting cheaper and in everlasting supply, wind farms are not without their detractors. Much has been made about the turbines as whirling blades of death to all bird life. California’s Altamont Pass Wind Farm was cited for causing the death of 1,400 eagles and hawks annually. Alderfer says that Altamont was poorly sited.
But new farms are far less of an avian hazard. “Of every 10,000 birds slain due to humans and pets, only one is now due to a wind turbine,” says Alderfer. Alderfer balances this against the 57 million birds killed annually by autos and house cats, which kill an average of five birds a year. “If the wind farm is well situated and kept clean below, there is no danger,” Alderfer insists.
Yet even if they are easy on birds, some find wind farms hard on the eyes. This is not a universal opinion, though. Clean-lined and majestic, the windmills can have the appeal of fine sculpture.
In New Jersey wind farm effectiveness is best achieved along the coast, where there is constant breeze. But for decades shore visitors have relished the state’s pristine ocean horizon. Thus, in lieu of having wind turbines cluttering beach vistas, Alderfer is now seeking out industrialized settings, similar to Atlantic City’s waste treatment center, where the windmills have already become a tourist attraction.
On your own. Of course going green does not necessarily mean buying someone else’s wind. Companies seeking to erect their own clean energy alternatives, such as solar, wind, or low-impact fuel, right on their own sites can find fiscal assistance in a host of government agencies.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (www.njeda.com) has devoted a substantial portion of its $620 million budget for grants and loans to businesses going green. NJEDA loans run to a $1 million maximum for installing solar, biomass, or wind energy. Grants for up to 20 percent of qualifying projects are available, along with some long term, no-interest loans. Many firms have received funding for updating old equipment with new, energy efficient equipment. And for those with plants on former dump sites, tapping for methane power has become a well-funded solution.
Going green in the workplace has become a popular trend, with rich rewards. New Jersey is currently backed up several months in processing solar energy rebates for both business and residential applicants. The use of everything from wind-powered facilities to recycled Homosote board floors is increasingly finding its way into corporate brochures. The old myth of business being the natural enemy of the environment is being dispelled. Some companies are now bragging about taking a strong environmental stance — and pocketing savings along the way.