Duck Island

Duck Island, a long, narrow swath of mostly city-owned land along the Atlantic City Expressway across from Bader Field, has been talked about as an alternative energy center since the early 2000s.

ATLANTIC CITY — City-owned Duck Island is again being discussed as a site for a solar energy farm.

But this time, the idea is to build a community solar project on the city’s 146 acres there, to help city government and some low-income residents cut their electricity bills through a power purchase agreement.

Community solar is a new idea, allowing people to band together on solar projects on public or jointly owned land. It is a way for those with fewer financial resources to get the benefits of solar power, by allowing a group of people to get credit for electricity generated by a project held in common, according to the state Board of Public Utilities.

G. Bruce Ward, executive director of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, said he is trying to get support for the idea from the state and city officials.

“I’m proposing for City Council to enter into a shared-services agreement with the water authority,” said Ward at this month’s Chelsea Neighborhood Association meeting. “We would enter into an agreement with the city to develop Duck Island for solar. The possibilities on Duck Island are so big.”

Mayor Frank Gilliam said the city is looking at a variety of ways to bring community solar projects to the city but cannot say now whether it will be in partnership with the ACMUA.

“We’re not saying no, but we’re not saying yes,” said Gilliam. “We have to have the conversation.”

Duck Island, a long, narrow swath of mostly city-owned land along the Atlantic City Expressway across from Bader Field, has been talked about as an alternative energy center since the early 2000s.

The BPU recently established rules for a three-year Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, which allows utility customers to remotely participate in solar energy projects built on property they don’t own. It is still putting in place an application process, which is on the agenda for its meeting Friday, said spokesman Peter Peretzman.

“I applaud the BPU and the governor for looking in that direction,” said Gilliam of the community approach. “So far, solar has only been beneficial to those who have the financial wherewithal.”

Some solar companies decide whether to work with someone based on credit score, he said, which puts lower-income people in urban areas at a disadvantage.

Ward said his idea won’t cost the city anything.

“The capital investment is taken over by a developer. We could do this with no money down, no money up front, for a 15-year term,” said Ward.

Council President Marty Small, who has supported efforts to develop Duck Island as an alternative energy site, said Tuesday he’s willing to consider Ward’s idea.

“We are always looking for ways to save the city of Atlantic City money,” said Small. “Mr. Ward always spoke about Duck Island and his vision to make Atlantic City more green. He is to be applauded for that.”

Small said the city is also entertaining a proposal from a company called Green Life to develop solar projects to serve city buildings on other sites.

“Our job is to entertain the best proposal on behalf of taxpayers,” said Small. “We’ll see where the proposal goes.”

Community solar creates access to solar for households that have been excluded because they are covered by too much shade, have unsuitable roofing conditions or their owners cannot afford solar panels on their own. Forty percent of program capacity is earmarked for low- and moderate-income households, according to the BPU.

Ward said he oversaw rezoning of Duck Island for alternative energy about 10 years ago when he was city solicitor.

In 2015, the ACMUA offered the city $5 million to $6 million for the city’s portion of Duck Island to build a solar and wind farm there. But that deal never went through.

In 2016, council passed a resolution to seek proposals from experienced developers, but again nothing moved forward. Small said the city was in the middle of a fiscal crisis and had to focus on reversing that.

Residents at the Chelsea meeting asked whether the project would reduce Atlantic City property taxes.

“That’s up to the city,” said Ward, adding the city could either use the savings on electricity bills to reduce taxes or pay for needed improvements or services.

Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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