N.J. solar project designed to keep natural gas pipeline flowing to be completed

Construction is underway for a solar and natural gas pipeline project in New Jersey that its developer says is the very first of its kind.

On track to be completed later this fall, the Lambertville Solar Project integrates solar power with the Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline’s natural gas pipeline operations by powering the compressor station that keeps natural gas flowing within the pipeline for the use of homes and businesses.

The Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline is 8,835 miles in length, transporting natural gas from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas and Louisiana up to the Northeastern region of the United States.

Enbridge Inc., a Canadian multinational energy transportation company based in Calgary, Alberta, is overseeing the solar project’s implementation.

The solar facilities in West Amwell, which stretch across roughly 12 acres of land, cost approximately $7 million in private funds and will produce 2.25 megawatts of electricity to help power the compressor station. About 25% of this power is provided by the facility’s 7,046 solar panels, as the project is designed to offset a portion of the electricity supplied by the grid.

This use of solar energy to power the compressor station of a pipeline — and thus ostensibly help to power the pipeline itself — has “not been done before,” according to Caitlin Tessin, the director of market innovation for Enbridge.

“In all of our searching, we have not found another example of an interstate pipeline company that has powered its compressor stations behind the meter using solar,” Tessin said. “This natural gas and renewable complement … and the way that we were talking about this several years ago when we were envisioning this project, was to actually take our natural gas infrastructure that’s obviously needed and serves a large subset of folks, and pair that with renewables to power this station.”

There are 15 compressor systems in total along the Texas Eastern Transmission pipeline, the majority of which are driven by natural gas compression rather than electric compression. Considering these other facilities, Tessin said Enbridge will “absolutely look” to replicate the model that has been established in Lambertville.

“I think that is a really compelling example of natural gas and renewables working together, and I think that it’s something that, as a company, as Enbridge, we’ll be seeing more of across our systems,” Tessin said. “And I would anticipate our peers in this space would continue to look at … delivering a very much-needed commodity and natural gas, and we’re doing it as efficiently and safely as possible.”

N.J. solar project designed to keep natural gas pipeline flowing to be completed this fall

Aerial view of the Lambertville Solar ProjectCourtesy — Enbridge

The Lambertville Solar Project is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 58,500 metric tons, a savings equivalent to removing 12,640 cars off the road over the project’s lifetime. Nonetheless, Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ, questioned the environmental benefits yielded by the project.

“While it is positive to see a small amount of solar energy being employed, this hardly negates the massive greenhouse gas emissions associated with Enbridge’s gas pipeline operations,” Gilbert said. “Enbridge and Spectra are now partners, and Spectra is an owner of the proposed PennEast pipeline that would result in significant greenhouse emissions and damage to pristine waterways and public open spaces.”

In response to these concerns, Tessin said that between the years 2005 and 2016, Enbridge has reduced its emissions to 20% below its 1990 levels and “continues to look and invest in new technology and new PILOT programs that we can replicate across our system to manage our emissions as much as possible.”

“We’re trying to be very proactive to make sure that our operations are as efficient as possible from an emission-reduction perspective, recognizing that natural gas is absolutely needed into the future as renewables continue to grow,” Tessin said. “Natural gas is the cleanest (energy source), and an affordable option to ensure that that renewable buildout can happen.”

“This might be a first small bite of this apple, it’s not our only bite,” she added.

Echoing Tessin, Max Bergeron, the manager of stakeholder relations for Enbridge, said the increased availability of natural gas has been responsible for a “major decrease” in emissions across the U.S.

“About three out of four New Jersey homes use natural gas as their primary heating fuel, and interstate pipelines like Texas Eastern make the delivery possible to the gas utilities which then serve those homes,” Enbridge said. “I think that there’s a positive environmental story to be told there…

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