Sustainable Jersey grant gives power to the people of Highland Park

Residents one day may be able see the light in the midst of a blackout, thanks to a new grant from Sustainable Jersey. The nonprofit organization, based at The College of New Jersey in Trenton, announced late last week that Highland Park is one of nine New Jersey municipalities awarded Sustainable Jersey Small Grants, funded by the Gardinier Environmental Fund.

The grant is meant to fund efforts to explore the feasibility of adding solar panels to Highland Park schools and municipal properties. If that proves feasible, the project would ensure that borough emergency services can communicate even in the face of a natural disaster that plunges the area into darkness. The project also would provide oases of electric power where residents could recharge electronic devices and stay warm.

“This is really exciting.. exactly what we need” – to identify and define how the community can sustain itself during natural disasters that interrupt our power supply, said Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler.

A task force will gather in early January to discuss next steps and to set a timetable for the feasibility study. Task force members include Clint Andrews, professor and associate dean for Planning and New Initiatives in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy; Allan Williams of the Highland Park Environmental Commission; Jennifer Senick, executive director at the Rutgers Center for Green Building; and Councilwoman Susan Welkovits.

The concerns driving the power program are no idle fancies. Residents have not so fond memories of how Highland Park was left in the dark two years ago when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast as October temperatures were beginning to dip uncomfortably low at night. And early in 2014, extreme winter weather hit the borough again and again leaving some residents without power during a bitterly cold stretch of January.

The project would only be able to alleviate the problem at buildings equipped with the solar panels. Highland Park is connected to the electric grids in New Brunswick and Edison; a localized “microgrid” benefiting Highland Park is not an option in New Jersey at this time.

Since 2009, Sustainable Jersey has distributed nearly $1.6 million in grants to New Jersey municipalities to help towns make their communities more livable, environmentally friendly and prosperous.

“Investments in energy projects are key toward the goal of a more sustainable and resilient New Jersey,” said Randall Solomon, co-director of Sustainable Jersey. “Funding local projects like building efficiency upgrades, alternative vehicle fueling and charging stations, energy education projects, energy resiliency and solar energy installations is a cornerstone of our mission.” (Disclosure: Mr. Solomon is the publisher of “The Highland Park Planet.”)

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