Offshore Wind in NJ Gets Boost, But Lawmakers Demand a Halt to One Project

Source: By TOM JOHNSON, NJ Spotlight • Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2020

BPU approves another step needed to build a massive production facility in South Jersey

Credit: Wolfgang. W. via Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 Offshore wind farm under construction

It started out as a pretty good day for New Jersey’s offshore-wind sector.

The state opened its second solicitation to build more offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast on Wednesday, one of a series of steps it has taken to bolster its goal of becoming a hub for a new industry emerging along the Eastern Seaboard.

Opening the window for offshore wind developers to submit applications to build projects 15 or more miles from the coast is one of the most consequential of the actions taken by the Board of Public Utilities. The window closes Dec. 10, and a decision on which project or projects are approved is expected next June.

Late in the day, however, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assemblyman John Burzichelli and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro, all Democrats who represent the 3rd Legislative District, issued a letter calling on the BPU to halt the one and only offshore wind project approved by the state — the Ocean Wind project by Ørsted, 15 miles off Atlantic City.

Misrepresented benefits?

The legislators argued Ørsted had potentially misrepresented in its application the economic benefits it had promised, specifically relating to the building of a monopole manufacturing facility at the Paulsboro port in the legislators’ district. The facility has not been built. Monopoles are a way of building towers for the huge wind turbines to power wind farms.

Ørsted issued a statement saying the company is surprised by what they read in the letter and by what the letter is suggesting. “The process from start to finish is about seven years, and we are well on our way toward carefully and mindfully delivering our $695 million in state spend commitment.’’

Under the offshore wind-enabling law, a company seeking to receive ratepayer subsidies to finance its proposal must demonstrate the project will produce net economic benefits, such as new jobs and investment in regions, if approved.

The three legislators, all of whom were sponsors of the Offshore Wind Development Act, asked the state agency to look into representations made by Ørsted in its application to hire union labor and set up a fund to ensure minority businesses and women-owned businesses have an opportunity to enter the offshore-wind industry. They also want the agency to reach out to colleagues in other states about whether they experienced similar problems.

“If these concerns are validated, we request you terminate the award and immediately commence a new and more transparent process for Offshore Wind projects,’’ the two-page letter said.

The BPU did not respond to calls for comment.

Mapping the wind

The board, at its bimonthly meeting, adopted a final version of its offshore-wind strategic plan, a document that offers a road map for how the state will achieve Gov. Phil Murphy’s goal of having 7,500 megawatts of offshore-wind capacity by 2035. By midcentury, New Jersey projects that offshore wind will provide 23% of the electricity residents and businesses consume.

In other matters, the BPU entered into a pair of agreements with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to invest nearly $6 million in workplace-training programs for the offshore wind industry and provide seed money for innovative clean-technology companies.

All of the actions were aligned with the Murphy administration’s goal of creating a robust offshore-wind industry in New Jersey. In June, the administration announced plans to build a port in Salem County solely focused on serving the offshore-wind sector in the hopes of attracting manufacturing segments there.

“This second solicitation not only reinforces our commitment to fighting climate change and achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2050, but it secures New Jersey’s foothold as a national leader in the growing offshore wind industry,’’ Murphy said in a statement.

Tripling wind capacity

The second solicitation aims to triple the committed capacity of offshore-wind farms along the Jersey coast. The BPU approved the state’s first wind farm last year to Ørsted, which will build a 1,100 megawatt facility 15 miles off Atlantic City. It is expected to be operational by 2024.

The second solicitation seeks to award between 1,200 megawatts and 2,400 megawatts. “It is sort of doubling-down the state’s commitment to offshore wind,’’ said Janice Fuller, president of Anbaric NJ Ocean Grid, a transmission company seeking to connect offshore-wind turbines to transmission lines on land.

BPU president Joseph Fiordaliso said the new solicitation achieves a significant milestone in New Jersey’s clean-energy efforts. “This is really exciting,’’ he said. “It is really moving the goalposts further down the road a bit, or closer to the water.’’

The offshore-wind strategic plan outlines recommendations for developing an offshore-wind industry that provides net economic benefits to ratepayers while also protecting the environment and commercial and recreational fishing interests.

The administration plans additional solicitations every two years through the rest of the decade.