N.J. Supreme Court to decide fate of controversial offshore pilot project 

Source: Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2015

An offshore wind developer looking to build a 25-megawatt pilot wind farm off the coast of New Jersey has appealed its case to the state’s highest court.

In legal briefs filed late last week with the state Supreme Court, Cape May, N.J.-based Fishermen’s Energy once again challenged a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities decision from last year that denies the company the right to start construction.

BPU has maintained that the power from the project would be too expensive, despite the pledge of a $47 million federal Energy Department grant and statements in the past by Gov. Chris Christie (R) that he wanted the Garden State to be a leader on offshore wind.

Last year, the board rejected the $188 million pilot on grounds that funding is not guaranteed and it would cost $263 per megawatt-hour once completed. Fishermen’s has argued that the real price would be closer to $199 per MWh.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court last month sided with the board, saying it “was not persuaded that the risks and costs of using an unproven technology to produce electricity at prices several times the market price were offset by the asserted benefits of the project.”

But the company insists that finding was based on faulty information that paints the project as entirely in the hands of Chinese financiers who will fund the project if it ever gets off the ground.

Paul Gallagher, chief operating officer of Fishermen’s Energy, and Chris Wissemann, CEO of the company, argued in an extensive statement to the press that any suggestion that their firm is controlled by Chinese backers is wrong.

“We have been portrayed as Chinese-owned, Mandarin-financial-wielding heretics that the BPU claims lack the ‘candor, transparency and cooperation’ to be worthy of approval,” Wissemann said. “This is in direct contrast to recognition by the industry, and most notably the U.S. Department of Energy … that Fishermen’s Energy is an industry leader.”

Gallagher noted that the company has asked DOE for an extension on the grant and said the case before the state Supreme Court will boil down to the assertion that the company provided financials only in Mandarin and that the proposed price was $263 per MWh.

“Had I been a commissioner hearing this rationale from my staff, I, too, would have voted against the project,” he said. “The problem is that neither of these assertions is true.”

A DOE spokesperson said the department “is aware” of the appellate ruling but plans to continue working with Fishermen’s “toward ultimate project success of their offshore wind demonstration project, including reviewing other potential power offtake arrangements.”

“While the N.J. BPU’s denial of Fishermen’s [permit request] has been upheld by the appellate court, the award with Fishermen’s does not specify that Fishermen’s must secure a PPA with the N.J. BPU,” DOE said. “In light of this decision, Fishermen’s may explore different offtake options.”

The spokesperson added, in an email: “The Energy Department will continue to support Fishermen’s Energy through the current budget period, and will take this information and any additional developments into consideration during the annual project assessment that all of the Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects must go through.”

Neither the BPU nor the governor’s office returned calls seeking comment. The BPU’s policy is to not comment on pending litigation.