N.J. pilot project gets lifeline, with final decision expected this fall

Source: Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 8, 2014

A proposed offshore wind farm that was rejected by New Jersey earlier this year may yet see the light of day as the first active U.S.-based offshore wind plant following a series of key developments in August.

At issue is a proposed 25-megawatt pilot project off the coast of Atlantic City from developer Fishermen’s Energy LLC. The proposal looked as if it was headed for the scrap heap in April when the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities rejected a motion to reconsider the project under guidance from the Republican governor of the Garden State, Chris Christie.

But Fishermen’s, which has an agreement with a Chinese turbine manufacturer, Xiangtan Electric Manufacturing Group Co., to supply the hardware, sued the BPU on the grounds that it was in the running for an Energy Department grant and that the state regulator’s decision was wrongheaded anyway.

Those arguments came to fruition in August when Fishermen’s signed onto the four-year, $47 million grant from DOE and then received word that an appeals court had overturned the BPU’s rejection and has directed the agency to reconsider its decision by late November.

The board rejected the $188 million blueprint on the grounds that funding is not guaranteed, and it would cost $263 per megawatt-hour once completed. But Fishermen’s has argued that the real price would be closer to $199 per MWh and notes that the $47 million federal grant means New Jersey would effectively be rejecting free money.

The Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division ruled in favor of Fishermen’s on a motion filed to require the BPU to reconsider. The court cited the DOE grant as well as the $199 per MWh price point, directing the BPU to recast the ruling in light of both numbers.

The wording of the appeals order is crucial because BPU officials argued against the project on economic grounds, saying it was too costly at $263 per MWh. At the cheaper price, Fishermen’s is optimistic it will prevail.

“Work continues on many areas of the project,” said company spokeswoman Rhonda Jackson. “We are pleased with the Appellate Division’s orders and continue to be confident about building the Fishermen’s Atlantic City Windfarm.”

Paul Gallagher, Fishermen’s COO and general counsel, has all along claimed that the BPU’s ruling does not agree with the state-passed Offshore Wind Economic Development Act. That act was signed into law by Christie, who at the time four years ago said he backed offshore wind.

What has changed since then is not clear, though many suspect Christie’s presidential aspirations may be a factor because Fishermen’s is tied to a Chinese manufacturer.

The BPU and Christie’s office did not return calls seeking comment.