New Jersey

Post Sandy, Group Eyes MEP System 'Rethinking'

Efforts to boost resiliency of the power grid in the region's post-Superstorm Sandy environment should be a boon for the mechanical and electrical engineering and construction sectors. A panel of regional government officials at a recent post-Sandy resiliency summit in Hoboken, N.J., focused on failures in the grid and called for a rethinking of the locations of power facilities and improved emergency service.

Noting the extensive flood damage to several of the state's water and wastewater treatment facilities that shut down some or all functionality, Bob Martin, commissioner of New Jersey's Dept. of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), said that improved power resiliency is one of the agency's key initiatives. There is a need for more focus on distributed generation and fuel cells, he said. "We learned our lesson the hard way," Martin said at the July 19 summit, which was sponsored by Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The agency is creating "heat maps" of its most critical infrastructure, including water and wastewater plants, utilities and hospitals, said Michele Sierkerka, NJDEP's assistant commissioner for water.

Peter Zipf, chief engineer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), said Sandy left more extensive damage to electrical systems than to structural infrastructure and hit the PATH rail system hard.

"We were borrowing, begging and stealing parts," he said. "We have a robust structural resiliency, but not on the electrical side. We will change that. We have two miles of flood barriers planned."

Zipf said PANYNJ will "address design standards before a crisis," with attention to issues such as elevated mechanical systems; buoyancy in loads; raising fuel tanks and roadways such as at Port Newark, N.J.; and impacts of thermal stresses and wind speeds.

"It's a very dynamic time, and we are looking at how engineers fit in," he says. He added that the agency is looking to industry to "step up and help address" the new challenges.

Zipf said that one week after the Oct. 29 storm hit, "we were set to put in an electrical system in a flood plain. Shame on us." He said there is a need "to boost electrical integrity" and that "we learned a lesson."

Gerry Petrella, an economic development staffer for New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D), said, "We want to promote out-of-the-box thinking" that's regional.

That was underscored by Daniel Zarilli, New York City's director of resiliency: "We don't want to make short-term decisions that preclude long-term ones." He said that regional tension "is good. You get a better result."

Meanwhile, industry specialty contractors that participated in ENR New York's survey said that post-Sandy reconstruction work will continue to keep them busy for some time (see p. 21).

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New Jersey and Connecticut

Two States Launch Microgrid Energy Programs

Connecticut and New Jersey last month both set their sights on electrical microgrid technology. The states announced the launch of programs designed to harden their respective energy infrastructures from severe weather events like Superstorm Sandy.

Microgrids contain two or more types of power sources and frequently include renewable-energy sources, says Peter Asmus, principal research analyst at market research firm Navigant Consulting, Chicago. They can be connected to a region's primary grid; however, should the main utility lose power, microgrids can be disconnected and operated independently in "island" mode. Demand is growing for these small energy centers worldwide, but especially in the U.S., he says.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced in late August the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), New Jersey Transit and the N.J. Board of Public Utilities for what he says will be the first-of-its-kind microgrid to keep electricity supplied to NJ Transit.

Under the agreement, the agencies will collaborate with Sandia National Laboratories to study and design "Transitgrid" for the railroad's electrical systems.