Imagine if there were another Sandy-sized power outage in Montclair.

It will probably happen.

But what if there was a small energy grid, separate from the township’s main grid, that could keep a handful of essential buildings running?

That is what the township’s environmental commission is looking into, with the help of a six-figure state grant.

Montclair has been awarded a $142,480 grant from the state Board of Public Utilities to see whether it would be possible for Montclair to invest in a microgrid: a smaller backup grid that can be used in the event of a widespread power failure.

The next step, Sustainability Officer Gray Russell said on Friday, is for Montclair to hire an engineering firm to do a feasibility study.
Russell said it might take between six months and a year for the firm to do the study and assemble its report.

Montclair is eyeing several buildings that are “critical facilities”: Mountainside Medical Center and the Montclair Fire Department headquarters, which is also the township’s emergency command center.

“So if the grid goes out, if there’s a power outage, those two facilities could be able to continue running,” Russell said. Also being considered as microgrid sites are Glenfield Middle School, PineRidge of Montclair, a senior living facility, and Bay Street Station. All buildings that would share the power supply are near one another.

If the grid went down, whether because of a weather event or cyber attack, Russell said, the microgrid would instantaneously come on and supply electricity.

Having a microgrid would keep Montclair resilient, Russell said. The town would be “prepared for disruption, could handle it when it comes, and bounce back afterward,” he said, defining the notion of resilience, which he said had “come on strong” after Hurricane Sandy.

The microgrid feasibility study would also determine, if Montclair decided to go ahead with the microgrid, whether there would be resources to help Montclair pay for it. Russell noted that there are federal and state grant programs that help towns with energy upgrades.

Montclair was one of 13 towns to receive grants for microgrid studies, according to a press release from the BPU. The grants are being made available through a Board of Public Utilities program called Town Centers Distributed Energy Resource Microgrid.

Russell noted that some university campuses were starting to set up microgrids as well. Princeton has had its own microgrid for several years; the grid was able to supply power to the campus after Hurricane Sandy, and Montclair State University is looking into setting up its own microgrid.

Since Montclair’s receipt of the grant was only just announced to the public, Russell said, the township has not yet received any feedback from the public on the idea. However, he said, residents with questions are welcome to call him at 973-509-5721.