Apr 03 2009

Positive Energy

A passion for green technologies and process management drives the culture at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey.

A passion for green technologies and process management drives the culture at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey.

Embracing alternative energy is now business as usual for the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey, says Tim Kaye (center), shown with his team, Mike McClintock (left) and Art Wilson.

ChrIs Crisman

One of the East Coast’s leading examples of a government agency that embraces alternative energy and promotes green policies is the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey.

In the past few years, ACUA has created a wind farm that powers about 60 percent of the energy needs of its waste-water treatment plant, installed 2,700 solar panels at the plant and deployed a landfill gas operation that converts methane gas into electricity.

The three alternative energy projects save the agency nearly $1.5 million in power costs annually. The projects were paid for through a series of state and local grants and private equity financing.

More than the savings, which are clearly important in these difficult economic times, the positive energy generated by these green initiatives has inspired other departments — including information technology — to embrace new ideas.

“To think that our utility is on the leading edge of alternative energy and green technologies is nothing short of amazing,” says Richard Dovey, ACUA’s president, who points out that ACUA also uses the electricity generated from the solar panels to power an electric vehicle used onsite.

Dovey says ACUA started researching alternative energy 10 years ago, about the time New Jersey deregulated energy. The agency, based in Egg Harbor Township, found that price fluctuations were unacceptable for a local government agency that needed a more predictable way to budget the cost of electricity and natural gas.

“We realized that we were left to the whims of the market, so as a large consumer of electricity we decided to find ways we could meet our environmental goals and gain more control over our costs,” Dovey explains.

The ACUA exec adds that one important aspect of the wind power arrangement is that ACUA is locked into a 20-year pricing agreement with Jersey Atlantic Wind, which owns and manages the wind farm.

Green IT

The local utility’s wind farm and solar panels in Atlantic City, N.J., power a waste-water treatment plant and an electric vehicle.

The alternative energy programs have built up so much goodwill at ACUA that Dovey has looked for opportunities to spread the green philosophy throughout the agency. One of his goals is to leverage IT to help ACUA cut costs and streamline agency processes.

Like many other state and local government agencies, ACUA turned to server virtualization as a way to cut costs. ACUA opted for Microsoft’s Hyper-V because it comes built in with Windows Server 2008, says Tim Kaye, the agency’s IT director.

Since the project began last August, ACUA has trimmed the number of its servers by one-third, from 49 to 33. That, combined with electricity generated through landfill gas, allows ACUA to reduce hourly electricity usage in the server room by 10,000 BTUs.

Kaye says green IT doesn’t begin and end with virtualization. The IT director says his job is to find additional ways in which IT can make the agency more efficient and green.

This includes installing a fax server on the agency’s Voice over IP system so employees can send paperless faxes, and finding new and exciting ways to use ACUA’s Microsoft SharePoint portal. One application Kaye developed lets ACUA employees fill out time-off requests electronically. Once the request is approved by a manager, it’s posted in a calendar on the SharePoint portal. Kaye also significantly reduced the number of printers and copiers throughout the agency by installing multifunction units that print, copy and scan.

“What we’re after is to get employees to think about using less paper,” he says. “This means scanning documents and e-mailing them around instead of printing them whenever possible, and printing on both sides of a page.”

One big challenge Kaye and his staff had is that out of ACUA’s 250 employees, only about half are office workers. Most of the other employees work in the wastewater treatment plant or the landfill operation and typically don’t use PCs routinely for their work.

Kaye’s solution was to install kiosks at all the major facilities so workers in the plants have access to the SharePoint portal. IT plans to expand periodic training classes so all staff members can become more familiar with the applications.

“When we started with our IT initiatives, a lot of the plant employees were concerned that they didn’t have access to a computer at work,” Kaye explains. “Putting in the kiosks was really effective.”

With the Obama administration pumping $50 billion into energy efficiency as part of the stimulus package, the level of awareness about green IT has increased among government officials, says Doug Washburn, an analyst with Forrester Research.

“I’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in green IT from state and local agencies and government at all levels,” Washburn says. “Now that businesses are being asked to embrace green IT, government has to follow suit,” he says, adding that governments are more apt to mandate that the agencies recycle and use Energy Star–compliant hardware.

Overall, ACUA is one of the state’s leaders in embracing alternative energy technologies, especially wind, confirms Doyal Siddell, a spokesperson for New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities.

“There are other municipalities and counties throughout New Jersey that are doing pieces of it, such as bio-gas and solar, but few agencies have embraced all the technologies, and no one has gone as far as ACUA has with wind,” Siddell concludes.

Power Source

Wind Farm
Location: Atlantic City
Deployed: December 2005
Cost: $12.5 million
Annual Electricity Savings: $649,156
Solar Panels
Location: Atlantic City
Deployed: July 2006
Cost: $3.25 million
Annual Electricity Savings: $211,746
Landfill Gas to Energy
Location: Egg Harbor Township
Deployed: June 2005
Cost: $3 million
Annual Electricity Savings: $541,801

Down The Green Path

Every new IT project at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority must align with the agency’s overall green and sustainable philosophy.

“Projects must either save time, money or energy,” says Tim Kaye, the agency’s IT director.

Kaye says ACUA is replacing CRT monitors on the majority of the agency’s 120 desktops with more energy-efficient LCDs.

The agency is also looking into desktop virtualization, which Kaye says will let his staff more easily manage the PCs remotely, saving numerous personal visits at the various offices and plant locations.

Along with desktop virtualization, Kaye says he’s also deciding whether it makes sense to replace the desktops with thin-client PCs.

“I’d like to eliminate desktop PCs and free us from the ongoing PC upgrade path,” he says, adding that most available thin clients also save on energy costs.