On Tuesday, June 21, Montclair Township Council members approved and awarded a contract to Shoreline Energy Advisors for Phase 2 of the Town Center Distributed Energy Resources Microgrid Design Incentive Program, a clean-energy program that has been ongoing since 2018. 

Ever since Hurricane Sandy stormed through the East Coast in 2012, causing a number of towns and cities to lose power in vital areas, Montclair has been seeking alternative energy resources that could operate in times of emergency. When the opportunity arose for the town to apply for funding to support this initiative, Montclair acted. 

“Part of what we all have to think about, and it's not nice, but we have to think about complete catastrophe,” said Gray Russell, former sustainability officer for Montclair’s Office of Environmental Affairs. 

In 2018, the NJ Board of Public Utilities (BPU) funded a grant to conduct a Microgrid Feasibility Study. In other words, the BPU allocated $142,000 to the Township to determine whether Montclair was a suitable location for a microgrid that could provide uninterrupted power for critical facilities during outages or disruptions. 

That was Phase 1. During that phase, the township had to use the funding to identify which buildings were most crucial to the area and which single location would be the perfect site for the microgrid. After careful evaluation, Russell and other Montclair officials decided Mountainside hospital would be the ideal location. 

“The building of the microgrid, it's not a huge building, but it takes up a large room,” Russell said. “It would be sunk into the ground, and part of the grounds of Mountainside hospital. That would be the main intention, is that it would be able to keep Mountainside hospital running completely.”

The plan is to have Mountainside connected to both PSE&G’s grid (the utility grid most of North Jersey uses) while simultaneously maintaining connection to the proposed microgrid, Russell said. That way if the main grid fails and the power goes out, the microgrid would already be operating. 

“Mountainside wouldn’t even blink,” Russell said. “It takes less than one second [and] the microgrid is already running, and would still be able to supply enough power, maybe not for all of Mountainside hospital, but enough for their emergency rooms and most of their operations in addition to the heat and hot water. That's critical.”

Although having a functioning emergency room is the driving force for this initiative, it is far from the only reason Montclair selected Mountainside as the microgrid building grounds. 

Microgrids can connect to other buildings only within a limited distance, Russell said. Mountainside, while serving as a place of refuge itself, is also only a couple of miles from critical areas in town, such as the fire headquarters, Bay St. Train Station, Glenfield Middle School, one of the town’s critical water bureau wells and treatment facilities behind Glenfield and the Pine Ridge Senior Home. It is crucial for all of these locations to remain in operation during a time of crisis. 

These impressive findings of the Microgrid Feasibility Study were handed back to BPU after completion around the end of 2018. The BPU was so impressed that out of the 12 municipalities that were granted funding to complete a Microgrid Feasibility Study, Montclair was rated the highest. 

In March 2021, Montclair was granted $679,500 from the BPU to move forward with Phase 2 of the microgrid plan. Different from the Phase 1 grant, the Phase 2 grant will go toward commissioning a consulting and engineering team to create a comprehensive engineering design plan for the construction of a Montclair microgrid. 

“The feasibility study is broader,” Russell said. “It's basically looking at choosing a location, determining what buildings and figuring out how big the microgrid would have to be and how much power it would have to generate to power all those buildings. The engineering plan then goes into the specifics of where the wires go, how you would create [the microgrid] literally, what system they would use, etc. The engineering plan would be very specific.” 

Montclair has awarded Shoreline Energy Advisors the contract to complete this detailed phase. The engineering plan will require a joint effort to complete, said Fred Fastiggi, Shoreline’s developer, principal and managing director. 

“No one firm really is qualified to do this completely,” said Fastiggi, who grew up in Montclair. “Even if you had a really big engineering firm, there are aspects of regulatory research that has to be done: environmental permitting, the terms and conditions with the energy off takers like the hospital in town. That kind of thing doesn't reside in one firm. So I've put together a team of people that are working with me.” 

One organization Shoreline has partnered with is Waldron Engineering Construction, which will be heavily involved in the distributed generation aspect of the project. This is the same organization that built the cogeneration plant at Montclair State University. 

Shoreline will also be partnering with a veteran-owned business based in Boonton called First Environment, which will be providing the permitting needs for the plan. Additionally, Shoreline will partner with Harris Energy Solutions, a women-owned company headquartered in Austin, Texas which specializes in solar design. Jessica Harris, the founder of Harris Energy Solutions, worked for Fastiggi at a local engineering firm after graduating from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).  

Fastiggi assures that Phase 2 should be completed within a year. He hopes Montclair residents will then begin to see the microgrid in its construction phase.

“This report that we're going to give to them is really something that is essentially shovel ready,” Fastiggi said. “The vast majority of engineering will have been done, I will have talked to lenders and investors to understand what they need in order to invest in the project to get it financed, I will have ironed out all the terms and conditions with the off takers as to what's acceptable for them, and then my hope is, once we get the report done, I can go out and just get it financed and get it built.”