New Jersey Takes Slow, Steady Approach to Offshore Wind

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Europe has been operating huge wind turbines offshore for more than a decade, while here in the U.S., this cutting edge clean technology seems perennially “five years off.”

The infamous project proposed offshore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been under deliberation for more than 10 years. During that time, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, and seven other countries have already installed 53 offshore wind farms totaling 3,813 megawatts (MW) of carbon free electricity. That is enough power to keep the lights on for more than 2.8 million American homes, or a city larger than the size of Chicago.

The international wind power industry is watching Washington, DC to see if lawmakers will extend the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind power. But their eyes are also focused on Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey, to see if state regulators there will help launch America’s long-awaited offshore wind energy industry.

In August of 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, which authorizes up $100 million in ratepayer-funded subsidies for offshore wind developments in the Atlantic Ocean that connect to the New Jersey grid. Special “offshore renewable energy credits” (ORECs) help make projects more economic, but unlike the Solyndra federal government loan guarantees, these subsidies are only awarded after projects meet a cost/benefit criteria and produce renewable energy delivered state consumers. In addition, a “Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund” offers additional grants and loans based on local job creation. Many experts consider New Jersey’s offshore wind program to be the most well conceived state policy initiative in the nation.

Perhaps the most unusual company pursuing the Garden State’s offshore wind power opportunity is Fishermen’s Energy, based in Cape May, New Jersey. Several of the East Coast’s largest commercial fishing companies have partnered to create the company, which has been developing a 25 MW project for several years. In contrast to Cape Wind and other ambitious proposals, the New Jersey-based consortium chose a step-by-step approach: a demonstration project. It is siting its five turbine windfarm within the three-mile state-controlled boundary off Atlantic City, a city looking to extend its image – and economy – beyond casino gambling. If building America’s first offshore windfarm were a race, Fishermen’s Energy might look like the tortoise to Cape Wind’s hare.

Showcasing a savvy approach, Fishermen’s Energy has trimmed pre-development costs and shortened the development cycle to what may be less than half that of the Cape Wind project by doing the following:

– Sited its first project in state waters, thereby eliminating redundancy in permits/paperwork and limiting federal agency reviews to the Army Corps of Engineers

– Relied upon shore-based anemometers, radar, and new laser-based technologies to collect data, eliminating the need for site-based meteorological towers in the ocean

– Engaged environmentalists and recreational fishermen in dialogue about the merits of its pilot project in advance of large-scale developments off the New Jersey coastline

– Discovered data on avian and sea life studies performed by a credible third-party company – Geo-Marine – that covers almost 127 miles of coastline (including its project site), to help secure its permits from the Department of Environmental Protection

– Used one of its company’s vessels – an 85-foot former fishing boat – to install a buoy at the installation site to monitor whale activity for two years

– Recruited financial support from XEMC, a Chinese industrial giant known as “China’s GE,” in planning for a 5MWdirect drive wind turbine

All these innovative steps – and more – add up to project savings, a critical accomplishment in light of the tight fiscal constraints imposed by the state OREC program.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is currently reviewing the company’s proposed pilot project. By modestly committing consumer dollars to the pilot project, New Jersey would lock in its leadership of an entirely new industry: offshore wind power. If the Fishermen Energy’s pilot project is allowed to move forward, more than 500 MW of additional offshore wind capacity could come online to serve New Jersey within the next five years, creating as many as 11,000 manufacturing, installation and ongoing operation and maintenance jobs for the Garden State.

Article by Peter Asmus, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.