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A gust of innovation will energize a town on the Jersey Shore

OCEAN GATE, N.J. - This tiny town, on the south bank of the Toms River where renowned sailors come to play with the wind as it marries in a swirl with Barnegat Bay, will soon harness those fierce gusts to help pay energy costs.

OCEAN GATE, N.J. - This tiny town, on the south bank of the Toms River where renowned sailors come to play with the wind as it marries in a swirl with Barnegat Bay, will soon harness those fierce gusts to help pay energy costs.

By the end of this summer, officials here plan to have built New Jersey's first municipal wind turbine.

Costing about $300,000, the initiative is being lauded by environmentalists and energy conservation groups and may inspire other municipalities to consider building their own wind turbines, according to Mayor Paul Kennedy.

Stafford Township, on the Barnegat Bay shoreline about 10 miles south of Ocean Gate, already has received the approval of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission to build a 200-foot tower to test wind velocity in that municipality's business park, which is in an area subject to environmental restrictions.

"As a town, Ocean Gate has taken a step forward to do something that in the long run can help this town and the environment and, in turn, may spur other municipalities to do the same thing," Kennedy said. "Some people laughed at us at first, but now we get calls all the time from other municipalities interested in talking to them about what we are doing."

Thirty percent of the cost will be paid through state energy grants. The remainder is expected to be financed by a 10-year bond, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said officials here yesterday opened a lone bid made by a private energy contractor to build a 135-foot-tall, 50-kilowatt wind turbine near the town's municipal building along Ocean Gate Avenue.

The bid came in higher than officials had projected, but Kennedy said it is likely costs could be shaved so the project could come in at around $300,000.

Officials say the new turbine will significantly reduce the borough's $20,000-a-year electric bill by producing about what the town uses: approximately 135,000 kilowatt-hours a year.

About 39 million watts of wind-generated energy are produced worldwide annually, with Germany accounting for about 40 percent of that energy, according to the Green Energy Council, a nonprofit trade association for producers of renewable energy systems such as wind and solar power.

Naysayers in Ocean Gate have wondered aloud in town meetings whether there actually is enough wind - albeit from Mother Nature and not politicians - along the Toms River corridor to generate enough to power to sustain the turbine.

But a Rowan University study, which used its own research and additional data provided by NASA, confirmed that Ocean Gate and surrounding communities along the Toms River near the mouth of Barnegat Bay have consistent and reliable wind, with an average daily speed of 6 m.p.h. year around.

While that may not sound like much, that statistic actually puts the area on the United States Wind Resource Map as a region rated consistently "good" as a potential wind resource, according to Ralph Avallone, of the Green Energy Council.

"In fact, the rating is consistent along all 126 miles of the New Jersey coastline and as far inland as 21/2 miles," Avallone said. "We are immensely pleased that Ocean Gate has taken this first step and we believe that not just the state, but the federal government should be helping to institute similar initiatives for municipal governments throughout the U.S."

So windy is New Jersey's coast, that just outside Atlantic City, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority and a private energy group two years ago invested $12 million to build the state's first wind farm and the first such coastal facility in the United States.

Upon the skyline of Atlantic City, five pinwheel-like 40-story-tall turbines compete for attention with the resort's shimmering array of casino high-rises - and usually win.

Ocean Gate's wind project, however, would likely not be as obtrusive as Atlantic City's wind farm, with its lone turbine rising only about a high as the town's water tower, Kennedy said.

"I'm not sure if I really like the idea of a big, tall wind turbine in my backyard," said Kate Burns, 56, who lives about a block away from the municipal building where the turbine will likely be constructed. "But the thought that they can use all this wind here for something besides sailing and yacht races makes me happy, so I guess I'm all for it."