Offshore-Wind True Believers Remain Optimistic About New Jersey

Source: By Tom Johnson, NJSpotlight • Posted: Friday, August 18, 2017

offshore wind

It has been nearly seven years since a measure to promote offshore wind in New Jersey was signed into law, and not a single turbine is turning off the state’s coast.

But clean-energy advocates and some business executives remain upbeat about prospects for the sector in the state, saying there is still an opportunity for New Jersey to nurture an offshore wind industry and create tens of thousands of jobs.

At a conference in Atlantic City, the Business Network for Offshore Wind outlined steps to resuscitate the state’s offshore wind program, including increasing the commitment to build at least 3,500 megawatts of capacity, up from the existing target of 1,100 megawatts.

That would be an ambitious goal — given the repeated missteps and delays the industry has encountered in New Jersey. Although a law designed to spur offshore wind farms along the coast was passed in 2010, not a single project has won state approval.

Christie cools on wind

Gov. Chris Christie signed the law, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, but the governor has since cooled on the technology, fearful the cost of developing the wind farms would spike energy costs in the state.

Also, his administration never bothered to implement a key provision of the law — developing a financial mechanism to provide ratepayer subsidies to help pay for the projects. Without such a mechanism, offshore wind developers say they will be unable to obtain Wall Street financing.

Nevertheless, two developers, DONG Energy and U.S. Wind Inc., have paid nearly $2 million to secure leases to build wind turbines off the coast, but their projects are still in the early stages, assessing the suitability of the sites to build the farms. By most estimates, no turbines will be operational until the middle of the next decade.

High on wind

Despite all that, the network and its allies are optimistic. In part, it is due to the high-wind resources New Jersey has off its coast, as well as relatively shallow waters that make development of the wind farms less onerous.

“Offshore wind in the United State is real,’’ said Liz Burdock, executive director of the network, citing the turbines spinning off the coast of Rhode Island, and ambitious targets set by Massachusetts and New York for offshore wind energy.

“By relaunching offshore wind here in New Jersey, we see incredible opportunities ahead for dozens of local businesses and thousands of good manufacturing and construction jobs,’’ she said.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, agreed, while not minimizing the challenges. “For seven years, we’ve been waiting for offshore wind in New Jersey,’’ he said. “It’s going to take a new administration to make it happen.’’

DONG Energy, a firm that has built one-quarter of the offshore wind capacity in the world, has a lease to build a farm about 10 miles off Atlantic City, according to Beth Treseder, senior regulatory affairs advisor. Costs of electricity have dropped dramatically, falling by 50 percent in the past seven years, she said.

Both the Democratic and the Republican gubernatorial nominees in New Jersey have publicly backed offshore wind, boosting optimism that a new administration will look more favorably on the technology next year when they take office.