Wind Power in New Jersey: How Big and How Soon?

Source: By TOM JOHNSON, NJSpotlight • Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2018

New report suggests Garden State is uniquely placed to make hay with wind, but critics have doubts and developers say state must push the process

Offshore wind could provide four times as much electricity as states along the Atlantic coast currently use, according to a new report touting the technology as a key to the region’s clean-energy future.

The 32-page report, Wind Power to Spare: The Enormous Energy Potential of Atlantic Offshore Wind, suggests New Jersey is uniquely positioned to harness that promise with the most aggressive goals in the nation.

But with only one offshore-wind farm now operating in the U.S., achieving that goal will require policymakers at the state and federal levels do much more to ensure a spate of current projects move forward, the report said.

Thirteen offshore projects, including two in New Jersey, have secured leases to build wind farms in coastal waters with enough projected capacity to provide power to 3 million homes.

“The winds of the Atlantic Ocean contain immense, abundant energy and the time is right to begin harnessing that energy to power the region,’’ the report said. The goal is ambitious, given that states along the Eastern Seaboard account for more than 25 percent of the nation’s energy consumption — more than that of all but four countries.

“The building blocks were put in place by the Obama administration,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center, which released the report.

“It’s good for the environment and good for the economy,’’ said O’Malley, citing why there is new momentum on offshore wind. “States are recognizing it as a huge opportunity. It’s the path forward on clean energy.’’

Credit: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Pink shading represents currently leased areas for planned offshore-wind development: Click to expand/collapse

Until recently, New Jersey had done little to achieve its own goal of building 1,100 megawatts of offshore-wind capacity by 2021, a target it will not achieve because of eight years of inaction during the administration of former Gov. Chris Christie.

With the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy establishing a target of 3,500 mw of offshore wind by 2030, state officials recently have taken steps to advance those goals. Last week, the state Board of Public Utilities posted draft regulations designed to help offshore-wind developers finance their projects, a proposal crucial to lining up financing.

“Offshore wind is the ideal resource for states like New Jersey — it’s clean, it’s renewable, and it’s conveniently located near our biggest cities,’’ said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, a co-author of the report.

Concerns about the cost

But critics say it is not cheap, a huge concern in a state typically ranking as among the ten most expensive for energy costs in the country.

The report, however, noted advances in technology and declining costs, coupled with growing concerns about the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, have generated new momentum for offshore wind.

Between 2012 and 2017, the overall cost of offshore wind dropped by 27 percent, according to the asset-management firm Lazard. The price is in line with new coal plants and cheaper than new nuclear units, according to the firm.

Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Offshore wind potential on the Atlantic Coast: Click to expand/collapse

The Atlantic coast, with its shallow waters and millions of people living close to its shore, is especially well-suited for wind power, according to advocates. Because there are no fuel costs, in the long run it pays for itself, they argue.

“Offshore wind off the Atlantic coast has the potential to power our communities for decades to come,’’ said Matthew Morrissey, vice president for Deepwater Wind, which built the nation’s first offshore-wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

There are still many questions to be answered, however. One big issue is, who winds up building the transmission to bring the power from offshore-wind farms to customers in the metropolitan areas.

Another big concern is when the state of New Jersey will begin accepting applications for development. Offshore-wind developers want the process to begin before the end of this year, saying if that does not happen, they may not be able to qualify for lucrative federal tax credits due to expire in 2019.

When asked about whether a solicitation would happen this year, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities president Joseph Fiordaliso said he would be happy if that occurs, adding “I can’t make any guarantees.’’