Greener State Parks Help Cut Red Ink

by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

New Jersey’s state parks are getting greener. Fourteen are scheduled for energy-efficient capital improvements. Greener energy in the parks means a greener environment … and more of the other kind of green left in taxpayer pockets.

Facing a 20 percent increase in recent utility bills, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection has been conducting energy audits of our park structures. Areas for potential energy savings include replacing inefficient windows, updating older heating and cooling systems, upgrading thermostats and retrofitting lighting – the same kind of updates you can do at home. It also identified opportunities for renewable energy sources and systems.


The state has allocated $2 million for the improvements, and they expect $257,000 in savings each year from reduced annual consumption of electricity (661,000 kilowatt hours less) and fuel oil (83,000 gallons). As an added bonus, annual carbon dioxide emissions would be cut by 367 metric tons.

In a separate project, already-planned improvements to the heating, cooling, lighting and power systems at the Pequest and Hackettstown Fish Hatcheries in Warren County could save $300,000 a year by cutting 745,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and 16,000 gallons of fuel oil.

Geothermal heating and air-conditioning systems were installed at Monmouth Battlefield State Park and the Batsto Mansion and Visitors Center in Wharton State Forest. The Batsto Visitors Center was renovated using recycled building materials, energy-saving lighting and reduced water- and energy-efficient appliances. Some Island Beach State Park restrooms are now completely self-sustaining with energy from a windmill and solar array. Solar panels also heat water for showers and sinks at the main swimming pavilion.

Encouragingly, the Department of Environmental Protection isn’t the only arm of state government going greener. Several state universities are constructing renewable energy projects.

William Paterson University in Passaic County, for example, is building the largest solar facility of any university in the nation. The project includes rooftop installations and arrays covering parking areas – a terrific use of an already-paved area, with the added benefit of providing shade for students’ cars. When completed next year, the system will deliver 3.5 megawatts of power. It’s expected to reduce the university’s energy costs by $4.3 million over 15 years.

As government agencies across the spectrum are seeing the benefits of energy conservation, the state budget crunch has taken a toll. Projects must now pay for themselves in 10 years or less before getting approval. In Ringwood State Park alone, that means a hold on projects to build a new enclosure for the Skylands Manor greenhouse ($9,412 annual savings, but a 13-year payback), replace the greenhouse boiler ($2,570 annual savings/12-year payback), upgrade the park office furnace ($2,436 annual savings/17-year payback) and replace another greenhouse enclosure ($3,365 annual savings/18-year payback).

As technology improves, the economics of energy savings will improve and shorten the payback savings period. Long-term energy savings have an obvious benefit to the environment – and it’s fitting that our preserved parklands should play a part.

I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.

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