N.J. positioned to be a leader in wind energy

Source: BY SCOTT FALLON, NorthJersey.com • Posted: Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Jersey is in position to generate more power from offshore wind turbines over the next few years than neighboring states, according to a report released by an environmental group Monday.

If every regulatory and financial hurdle are met, two major projects in New Jersey could produce 1,700 megawatts by 2020 outpacing Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maryland, which also have large offshore plans, said the report by Environment America.

The report comes about two months after long delayed plans for wind turbines received a boost when the federal government sold lease rights to companies that covers 344,000 acres of seafloor from Cape May Court House 60 miles north to Barnegat.

New Jersey has higher offshore wind speeds than more southern states, but not as high as some New England states, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Local wind advocates say the continental shelf off New Jersey is easier to build on because it slopes more slowly than other areas along the Eastern Seaboard.

“The reality is you have a sweet spot for offshore wind right off the coast of South Jersey,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

The push to build turbines has been hampered by many factors, including the slow development of a complex funding system by the Christie administration that wind companies say they need. More than five years after Christie signed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, the state Board of Public Utilities has not yet finalized plans to issue offshore renewable energy certificates that the law calls for. These certificates essentially provide offshore wind developers with a subsidy covered by ratepayers to help the developer offset high upfront costs.

US Wind Inc. and RES America Developments Inc. won the federal bids for almost $2 million in November to build wind turbines seven to 21 nautical miles from the shore. Although the projects could generate 3,400 megawatts to serve about 1.2 million homes, the report’s authors said they halved that amount because the offshore wind capacity is often less than initially anticipated.

Still that 1,700 megawatts would equal almost the entire amount expected to be generated in three other states combined: Rhode Island and Massachusetts with 1,400 megawatts and Maryland with 500 megawatts based on similar leases awarded by the federal government.

While other states such as Virginia and North Carolina would likely have more overall capacity off their coast, they are not as far along in the regulatory process as New Jersey, O’Malley said.

Plans to build a smaller project — five turbines — in state waters off Atlantic City remains in limbo. A bill that passed the Assembly last month would allow that developer, Fishermen’s Energy of Cape May, a 30-day window to resubmit plans to the BPU. That agency has twice rejected Fishermen’s Energy’s project saying it would require a state subsidy so large that it would make the energy produced too costly for ratepayers even though the company has secured a $47 million federal grant. The Senate may vote on the bill this week.