Wind farm hopeful seeks more time to revise NJ application

Source: ANDREW DUFFELMEYER, Associated Press • Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2012

TRENTON, N.J. — Fishermen’s Energy, the company likely closest to placing wind turbines off the coast of New Jersey, is seeking more time to file an amended application with state regulators following harsh criticism of its initial proposal by consultants.

The extension request by Cape May-based Fishermen’s Energy is to be taken up Wednesday by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. The company wants to put five or six turbines 2.8 miles off the coast of Atlantic City in a $200 million, 25-megawatt project intended to provide enough electricity to power 10,000 homes.

Company spokeswoman Rhonda Jackson said Tuesday the group is aiming to file an amended application June 1. The company still hopes to be the first admitted into the state’s offshore wind energy program, though the timeline for completion is changing.

Two consulting groups have raised questions about the costs of the project and the documentation supplied by the company, the high cost of the energy that would be generated, the economic benefits and the technology to be used.

The Offshore Renewable Energy Certificate program approved by lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 requires utilities to purchase electricity from the wind companies that can meet state requirements and win state approval

Wind energy supporters hope the program will lead to the development of at least 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind energy in New Jersey, and make the Garden State a hub for wind manufacturing.

But a state legislative leader said he is worried New Jersey may be setting the bar too high for a wind energy project and that lawmakers may need to review the program’s requirements.

“I was hoping for more progress by now, especially since we said we want to be on the leading edge,” said Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, a Franklin Township Democrat and chairman of the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. “We aren’t moving fast enough, and I think some other states are catching up.”

He said he was hoping all of the guidelines would have been established already.

Board spokesman Greg Reinert said the legislation was designed to give the BPU time to set up the program and that staff is working to put together the guidelines.

“It’s a new process,” he said. “Staff and the interested parties, which are developers and others including rate council, have been working through the process to set up this new system.”

Reinert said the board will review Fishermen’s plan with an eye toward economic development and the impact on ratepayers. It’s unclear how much weight potential environmental benefits will carry in those decisions, he said.

Chivukula said if things don’t speed up, lawmakers may need to better define through legislation what economic benefits they expect from offshore wind projects. Because this is a new industry, he said, jumpstarting it could take a relaxation of those requirements and a greater recognition of the environmental benefits.

He also noted the state’s renewable portfolio standard requires 22.5 percent of energy in the state to come from renewable sources by 2021.

“If we keep a very high target it may never come to fruition,” Chivukula said.

A February report from two consulting firms, Boston Pacific Company and OutSmart, found that subsidies for the project would be “quite high,” that reported capital costs lacked supporting documentation and that the price tag for the project is higher than for similar projects.

The project’s impact on jobs is also unclear, the consultants wrote, and it may even have a negative effect because of increased electricity prices.

The consultants found that a net benefit to the state hadn’t been shown. They also questioned the technology the company proposes to use.

“When combining the risks of a new turbine with the risks of a new foundation concept, the technology risks of the project significantly increase,” the report said.

Fishermen’s had hoped to have turbines in operation by Labor Day 2013, but the timeline is changing, Jackson said.

The company is still studying the turbines’ potential impact on wildlife, awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and pursuing federal funding, she said.

“I certainly think that we have made every effort and we continue to make every effort, so we are very hopeful,” Jackson said..

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese noted a federal call for offshore wind power in New Jersey drew interest from 11 developers totaling more than 12,000 megawatts. Officials said those projects could be online by 2016 or 2017.

“We got more than we anticipated so we’re in good shape there to really get something moving,” he said.