Is Long Wait for Offshore-Wind Financing Mechanism Over?

Source: By Tom Johnson, NJ Spotlight • Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2018

BPU announces public hearing on still-undisclosed proposal detailing how utility customers would subsidize offshore wind

offshore wind

The state is finally moving to adopt crucial regulations to spur development of offshore wind farms of along the Jersey coast, a top priority of the Murphy administration.

In a notice this week, the staff of the Board of Public Utilities announced a public hearing to discuss a yet-to-be-made public proposal that would detail how utility customers would pay for incentives to promote the technology.

It’s been a long time coming. The rules were supposed to be completed six months after former Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in 2010 that backers predicted would make New Jersey the national hub of a nascent offshore wind.

But the rules were never adopted, although supposedly submitted to the governor’s office years ago and never acted upon, according to sources. Christie worried the cost of offshore wind would be too high, spiking bills in an already energy-expensive state.

Rhode Island: the wind-turbine state

In the meantime, the country’s first offshore wind farm began operating last year off Rhode Island, and other states moved their own projects forward, including Maryland and Massachusetts.

Offshore wind is gaining wider support up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who has set a goal of having 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, directed the state agency to begin the rulemaking process in January. BPU staff began drafting a straw proposal two months ago, but its status is uncertain.

The agency invited stakeholders to a meeting next Tuesday to comment on the proposal but did not make it public. An email seeking an explanation about when the agency would make the straw proposal public was not answered, nor was one asking how stakeholders could comment on a proposal they had yet to review.

Cheerful clean-energy advocates

Nevertheless, clean-energy advocates were happy the state is finally moving to adopt the funding mechanism, which most agree is crucial to developers lining up the funding they need from Wall Street to finance the projects.

“We see it as a good indication for the sector,’’ said Bill O’Hearn, of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a group trying to promote the benefits of offshore wind and its impact on the economy. “It’s a good first step forward.’’

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed. “It’s been the whole holdup all along,’’ he said, referring to the failure to adopt the rules. “Without a funding mechanism, all this talk about it is just more wind.’’

Despite the delays, there are four projects that could result in wind turbines producing electricity off the Jersey coast.

There is a small offshore wind project by Fishermen’s Energy proposed three miles from Atlantic City that would produce 24 megawatts of electricity. In addition, two developers — Ørsted and U.S. Wind have bought leases from the federal government to build offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast. In addition, there is another project 16 miles off Cape May that could result in a 200-megawatt wind farm. It is being developed by Deepwater Wind and PSEG Power Ventures.

Just how those projects would be funded and how the mechanism would work apparently remains to be worked out.

Instead, the notice from BPU listed 17 topics that could be included for comment at the hearing or in subsequent written comments. For the most part, they dealt with how electric utilities would oversee payments from customers to offshore wind developers and administration of those funds, dubbed Offshore Renewable Energy Certificates (ORECs).

Still, the agency appears to want to move quickly. The public comment period is scheduled to close on May 18. At some point after that, the agency will publish a proposed rule in the New Jersey Register for further comment.

If so, that leaves some advocates optimistic. “Hopefully, the BPU turned a draft around in record speed,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “This has been the great white whale of New Jersey’s offshore wind industry.’’