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ATLANTIC CITY-South Jersey, particularly this metro area, is facing growth that will put an additional strain on existing utilities, some of which are already trying to cope with demand necessitated by such a densely populated state. The solution to this problem, according to a panel at PlanSmart New Jersey’s conference here, is twofold: start conserving and seek alternate means of providing energy.

“If we’re going to have growth, we’ll need energy resources and environmental sensibility to make sure it’s sustainable,” former NJ Gov. Jim Florio told attendees.

Some companies are already testing alternate ways of providing energy to the region. Under the auspices of its president, Richard Dovey, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority has initiated several green projects aimed at creating renewable energy. The most notable is the authority’s gas-to-energy project, which captures and converts methane gas from the local landfill into power.

Energy was also on the mind of panelist Ed Graham of South Jersey Industries. As new projects are built, “demand for electricity will rise, and that’s a real trial for Atlantic Electric,” he said. To help meet the heating and cooling needs of some of the major hotel/casinos rising in the city’s Renaissance Pointe area, SJI built the Marina Energy Thermal Facility, which already provides hot and cold water and heating and cooling to the Borgata, and backup power in case the main grid suffers an interruption.

Having enough water for the city could become a problem, according to the panelists. Dovey raised concerns about saltwater intrusion and groundwater contamination of the water table aquifer. One way to ease water constraints could be to reuse water, particularly wastewater, which is already being treated and re-released as industrial water by the Utilities Authority. Unfortunately, treated wastewater is viewed somewhat askance by most members of the public.

“A lot of people worry and ask, ‘what if this treated water gets on my dog? What’ll happen?’” said Dovey. “So, you need to have a demonstration project to show them that the dog won’t die.” Dovey also stressed the importance of have the public on your side: “Individuals and companies can help. It’s simple, but we make it so complicated.”

All three panelists agreed that efforts on behalf of individuals and private companies will be helpful, if not necessary, to help ease the strain on public utilities. Fortunately, “companies are looking at energy efficiency because it saves money,” said Florio, “and the public is very conscious” about global warming, making individuals more willing to explore methods of conserving energy.

Conservation will only take us part way. “We’re not going to conserve our way out of this problem,” Florio warned. “We can’t save enough energy to power expansion in the future,” which is why so many are pushing for alternate energy sources. With the money going into Atlantic City and the growth the city is experiencing, it could be an ideal place to establish those programs.

“With the millions of dollars going into Atlantic City, it could be the first eco-city in the United States,” Dovey said.

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