NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–On December 1, Mayor James Cahill spoke to an audience of more than 100 people on the campus of Rutgers University, at the annual “Solar Summit Roundtable Discussion.”
The event was organized by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG), a consumer advocacy group with a campus chapter based at Rutgers.
The summit was a culmination of collaborative efforts on behalf of the student group and Mayor Cahill’s officr. For NJPIRG campus organizer Julius Moye, “The summit was a great success.”
According to Moye, the purpose of the summit was to, “bring together solar business, non-profits like NJ PACE, the City of New Brunswick, and Rutgers students to spark a discourse on solar energy.”
Leading up to the summit, eight students, including Moye, have been meeting with City Hall’s Brianna Suffy on a weekly basis.
According to Moye, “this is the first time NJPIRG has had any such relationship with the Mayor’s Office,” and he expects the weekly meetings to continue.
NJPIRG member April Nicklaus introduced the mayor and facilitated the dicussion, saying Cahill “played a key role in bringing solar energy to New Brunswick” during his seven terms in office.
Mayor Cahill began his remarks by praising NJPIRG for its initiative on solar energy: “The timing and subject of interest are spot on,” he commented.
“In order for us to have a future, the very first thing that we need to do is to preserve our environment for the future generations,” Cahill told the crowd.
“If left unchecked global warming will have a devastating toll on our environment and economy.”
After establishing his strong view in favor of alternative energy sources, Mayor Cahill provided a history of his administration’s work during the past decade.
In 2006, the Mayor first pledged that he and his administration would do its best to align with the Kyoto protocols, where it was asserted Global Warming existed and it had been caused by CO2 emissions that now needed to be reduced.
While Newark was recently recently ranked the “Top City Per Capita for Solar in Northeast,” New Brunswick has more than its fair share of solar panels as well.
“In 2009-2010 the city embarked on reducing its impact on the environment,” said Cahill, as he described the city’s efforts to put solar panels on rooftops of public buildings.
According to Cahill, the city partnered with the Board of Education and the New Brunswick Parking Authority, and the end result was “one of the largest municipal installations outside of the state of California.”
The solar panels were placed atop public spaces like parking garages and school buildings.
The project was supposed to generate $4 million in savings for each of the participating entities over a 15-year period.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, Cahill said that “the cost of electricity has declined in recent years and the savings has not trended quite as much as we originally anticipated.”
However, the environmental impact is still there, Cahill said, indicating that the installations “generate nearly 5000 megawatt hours annually, reducing our carbon dioxide emissions by over 3,500 tons or the amount of carbon emitted from burning over 7,500 barrels of oil.”
The same partnership responsible for the public solar panels is now pushing to install them on the rooftops of two privately-owned industrial buildings on Van Dyke Avenue. The converted warehouse buildings have been used as public schools in the past.
Outside of solar energy, the Mayor stated the city has other initiatives that help it remain environmentally conscious.
According to Mayor Cahill, the city’s “overall polices, budget allotment, waste management, community education, and land use projects” all contribute to its sustainability.
The Mayor also claimed, “mixed use and high rise structures are environmentally conscious.”
According to Mayor Cahill, “this is the type of development that needs to occur in order to accommodate growth in our state here in New Jersey without creating additional sprawl.”
This past November, the city was finally certified for the first time by Sustainable Jersey, Cahill said. Members of the Environmental Commission have been working towards the certification, which stresses sustainable practices on the local government level, for years.
The panelists for the roundtable discussion were Dr. Robert Kopp, Associate Director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, Kate Shackford, Executive Director for GRID Alternatives, and Dr. Frank Felder, Director at the Center for Energy at the Edward J. Bloustein School.
Dr. Felder insisted, “until we put a true price on carbon, greenhouse gas emissions won’t change.” The true price of carbon would reflect the social cost it has on the earth and the repercussions of global warming.
Frustration towards the current American political system was a major theme of the night: “If you don’t have the majority vote, it’s hard to get anywhere,” said Felder.
Felder also addressed the technology roadblock to green energy alternatives, saying, “we need to fund research and development that’s just not there at the moment”
Dr. Robert Kopp agreed with his colleague saying, “technology is important, but as long as solar is more expensive, we’ll have a problem implementing it.”
Kopp ended by saying, “politics is the real problem.”
Throughout the discussion, Kate Shackford emphasized the importance of, “outreaching to the community and organizing at the local level” when trying to install solar panels or implementing environmental policies in general.
Her non-profit, GRID alternatives teaches volunteers how to install solar panels and fundraises to lower the initial cost of implementing solar panels within communities; particularly low-income cities and towns.
Since the summit, the Mayor’s Office has been in talks with New Jersey PACE, a non-profit that provides 100% of the initial funds for, “energy efficiency upgrades, on-site renewable energy projects, and water conservation measures,” to various types of properties.
PACE and their clients then come up with a logistical financing plan that can last up to 20 years.
According to Moye, the summit and NJPIRG have successfully facilitated conversation between the city of New Brunswick and NJ PACE to explore funding for future energy efficiency upgrades for the city of New Brunswick.
Since the summit, “NJ PACE and the Mayor’s office have been working together to implement a plan to have 20% of New Brunswick’s energy be solar energy by 2025,” said Moye.