New Jersey Towns Go Green To Save Green

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

We’re all living on tighter budgets these days – at both the public and personal levels – so it’s good news that state, county and local governments can invest in energy efficiency and, in the process, save taxpayer dollars.

The benefits of energy efficiency often get overshadowed by talk about the rush to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, and the need to extract more oil and natural gas to satisfy our energy appetites. But energy conservation is by far the best way to cut energy use, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and save money.

Up-front costs have traditionally been the biggest roadblock to energy efficiency projects, but a combination of incentives and grants have made these investments a “no brainer” for Garden State municipalities.

For starters, the state Board of Public Utilities offers towns and schools a free, comprehensive energy audit to evaluate everything from equipment efficiency (from boilers to computers) to usage patterns (when and how much energy is used). The energy audit then recommends steps to improve efficiency, ranging from modernizing old, inefficient heating and lighting equipment to more exotic options like “daylight harvesting systems” that collect sunlight and channel it to workspaces inside buildings as a substitute for electric lights.

Next, there’s the Board of Public Utilities’ Direct Install initiative, which may pay for up to $50,000 in energy efficiency equipment upgrades for towns and schools! Who could pass it up? Of 512 eligible local governments, 85 percent are taking advantage.

Finally, many municipalities have been awarded federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants of up to $20,000, with no match required. These federal grants are funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; the program has closed for 2011, but renewed funding is a possibility.

One of the best things about energy efficiency – even with the up-front costs – is that the savings are immediate. Industry experts estimate the average town can save 20 percent on its energy costs through efficiency alone.

Millburn Township in Essex County, for example, invested just $1,027 in energy efficiency projects that would have otherwise cost over $50,000. With its reduced energy costs, Millburn estimates it will take only two weeks to recoup the $1,027. Going forward, the town expects to save $63,000 every year!

Has your town jumped on the energy efficiency bandwagon? Don’t be shy – ask your mayor or town administrator if your town has had an energy audit.

If your town is one of the 15 percent that hasn’t taken advantage of energy efficiency programs, encourage your mayor to log on to the N.J. Clean Energy Program website for details on dozens of energy efficiency programs at www.njcleanenergy.com/commercial-industrial/home/home . You can also go to Caucus: New Jersey online and view the “Living Green: Clean Energy for Municipalities” episode, which explains the program’s process and benefits, at http://watch.njtvonline.org/video/2126615693.

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.


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