Atlantic City, New Jersey [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] Thousands of state and municipal officials gathered in Atlantic City this week at the 90th Annual New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference. During the first state meeting of elected officials since the gubernatorial election, one issue of particular concern to many of the Garden State’s cities, towns and villages was the best way to manage energy costs in the face of rising natural gas prices. Renewable energy played the strongest part.Some savvy municipalities have stayed a step ahead of the soaring cost of fossil fuels by making a stronger commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs that provide tangible environmental and cost-saving benefits to their residents. For example, the Township of Montclair has invested in a fleet of six clean-fuel vehicles and upgraded its municipal traffic lights to light-emitting diodes. The Township, which recently received a 2005 New Jersey Clean Energy Leadership Award for its efforts, is also constructing the Rand School, the town’s first “green” school that will include a geothermal heating/cooling system and PV solar panel installations on its roof. Many of Montclair’s initiatives were brought to fruition with help from New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program (NJCEP). Providing nearly $145 million annually in financial and other incentives, the program provides aid to residential customers, businesses, schools and municipalities that install energy efficient and renewable energy technologies, including the use of solar electricity systems. “New Jersey continues to provide some of the strongest financial incentives in the nation when it comes to promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies,” said Jeanne M. Fox, President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. “As more municipalities take steps to generate energy from renewable resources, the long-term impact will result in stabilized energy costs, improved air quality, job creation and a reduced dependence on foreign fossil fuels.” Municipalities like Highland Park, Bayonne, Kearney, Toms River, Ocean Township and Margate also have taken advantage of the programs and incentives provided by the Garden State. The NJCEP’s Clean Energy Financing for Schools and Local Governments Program provides incentives and low-interest financing to local governments interested in developing energy efficiency and renewable energy generation projects. This combination of rebates and financing allows municipalities to address overdue projects immediately, while saving money, energy and the environment. During the past three years, more than 850 homes, businesses, schools and municipal buildings have received solar systems and are now generating their own energy from the sun. And since 2002, the NJCEP has reduced 9.6 million metric tons of pollutant emissions in the air over New Jersey, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury.