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A new landscape will be spreading in New Jersey, if Ed Walters Jr. has his way. Walters’ vision is one of acres of solar and wind farms, all generating carbon-neutral electricity for the Walters Group’s Stafford Park, a mixed-use development in Stafford Township. Stafford Park won’t be the first New Jersey development to harness wind power—Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel beat Walters to the punch on that one, but the president of the Barnegat-based development firm is confident that at final completion, sometime in 2011 (if it clears all the environmental hurdles), Stafford Park will stand alone among commercial real estate developments in its use of renewable energy. Here’s how the project is shaping up to date:

GlobeSt.com: Talk a bit about the growth of the project and its focus on the environment.

Walters: Stafford Park is a mixed-use project with 656,000 sf of retail, 565 active adult residential units and 112 low- and moderate-income apartments. There will also be 100,000 sf of office. When the project got started, we capped a 55-acre landfill in the Pinelands region. Our work was highly scrutinized environmentally, and we put in place such things as a very stringent storm-water management system. We will, for instance, use captured rainwater for irrigation so there’s no use of city or well water. One of the conditions was that the entire project had to be LEED certified, and since the entire project is headed in that direction, we felt we should also investigate renewable energy sources.

The first thing we did was analyze solar, and it looks like we’re going to hit close to a megawatt of solar on the rooftops. We’re also investigating installing a solar farm on top of the landfill. In addition, we’re close to Atlantic City and the Borgata, and its wind program was very successful, so we determined we should also investigate wind. We have 45 acres available for the solar farm and there’s some surrounding land that’s perfect for wind turbines. Solar will be both on roofs and on the landfill.

We’re also looking into using geothermal to heat the residences and potentially some of the commercial buildings.

GlobeSt.com: Solar is wildly expensive. How did you determine ROI?

Walters: We’re still in the process of analyzing that. Unfortunately, solar doesn’t work on its own. It’s cheaper to burn coal. But, due to federal tax programs and incentive, solar is financially viable. The state also just mandated that all energy producers in New Jersey have to purchase a certain number of Asrecs–Solar renewable energy credits. By the year 2021, 22.5% of all energy deliveries in New Jersey will be required to come from renewable energy sources, and utility companies are mandated to purchase a certain number of Asrecs. So when the system is up and running, at the end of every year or quarter, depending on the amount of electricity and kilowatt hours you’re generating, you are issued an appropriate number of Asrecs. They’re actually certificates that represent a specific value. We’re anticipating that in ’08, the credits will probably sell in the $400-to-$450 range.

GlobeSt.com: Let’s talk about the wind power. It’s still a unique sight on the landscape. Where would it put Stafford Park among other developments?

Walters: I don’t think anyone has done a project where all the electricity on site is actually generated on sight, and that’s our goal. There are a lot of regulatory hurdles we have to get through. The power and utility companies have been operating based on a set of rules that are 100 years old. But things are changing so those rules have to change to allow a private developer to do this.

GlobeSt.com: And the cost of wind turbines?

Walters: The cost of wind turbines has gone up substantially over the past couple of years. There’s such a worldwide demand and such little supply. What needs to happen is more manufacturers need to come on line. There are only two or three around the world. A 1.5-megawatt wind turbine was going for $2 million, now it’s gone up to something like $3 million over the past 12 months.

GlobeSt.com: What about the return on that?

Walters: The current incentive programs in place certainly help, but we need to charge retail for the electricity that gets manufactured on site, and that’s where the regulatory hurdles come into place. We’re going to set up an independent energy district and pretty much be our own utility company. We’re going to produce electricity, distribute it and bill for it. It works when you can charge up around 16 to 18 cents per kw hour. It’s the only way this project works. A homeowner can put a solar panel on the roof and with net metering, the meter spins backwards when the sun’s out. When there’s no sun, you’re purchasing electricity. At the end of the year what you owe is what the meter says. Currently, in New Jersey, there’s a two-mw limit. That has to be lifted because we’re probably going to be looking at building a 15- to 20-mw system.

GlobeSt.com: If you become your own power company, could you sell energy to outside tenants or projects?

Walters: We’re shooting to have all the electricity produced on site used on site. We’re not going to be generating competitive electricity.

GlobeSt.com: Talk about timeframes. Walters: The first buildings in the project are being built right now, so rooftops in the first phase should be solar powered in July. The test wind tower just went up and that is basically a one-year study. The consultant [Rutgers University Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences] that’s handling the study says the data indicates that the wind resources seem favorable. Within six months we should have enough data to say that a turbine placed here would generate X kw hours per year.

GlobeSt.com: So continue with the timeline.

Walters: It’s likely we can install the turbines in the summer of ‘09.

GlobeSt.com: And total completion of the project?

Walters: We need to wait until the project develops further. We can’t generate more electricity than can be used on site, and a large part of the usage will be coming from the residential units. But, because the residential market is where it is right now, we’re probably looking at 2010 or 2011.

GlobeSt.com: Unless the market just opens wide up.

Walters: And all indications right now are that it’s going to be a long, slow road back to profitability.

GlobeSt.com: And when the dust has cleared?

Walters: Between geothermal, wind and solar, we can be pretty close to net-zero in terms of energy production and usage. I doubt that there’s any project in the country that can claim that.

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