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NJ Poised to Be Powerhouse in Offshore Wind Energy, Report Says

A new environmental assessment says deployment obstacles are political not technological.

New Jersey is poised to be a leader in the nation’s push to develop its offshore wind energy resources, with enough potential to power nearly five million households, according to a new report by environmental groups.

The 62-page assessment, Offshore Wind in the Atlantic, investigates the possibility of harnessing the wind energy potential up and down the Atlantic coast. Its conclusion: the biggest obstacles to the deployment of offshore wind are political and institutional, not technological.

The report found that despite trailing Europe and China in developing offshore wind farms, up to six gigawatts of offshore wind already have been proposed along the Atlantic coast. That's the equivalent of about five coal-fired power plants and enough to provide electricity to about 1.5 million homes.

In touting the potential of offshore wind as the most cost-effective way to deploy renewable energy, the advocates said an offshore wind industry has the potential to create jobs, curb pollution and reduce reliance on fossil fuels contributing to global climate change.

Shallow Water

The study said the Atlantic’s shallow water characteristics combined with excellent wind speed make it an ideal location for offshore wind farms. Noting 93 percent of offshore wind projects worldwide are in shallow waters (zero to 30 meters deep), it said close to half of the United State’s shallow water is along the Atlantic coast.

That is one reason why developers have made New Jersey the favored location for offshore wind farms. Four different developers are seeking to win approval for projects, all involving wind farms of 350 megawatts of capacity, which, if built, would surpass any other state.

Christie administration officials hope the projects will help attract a wind turbine manufacturer to New Jersey. Under an offshore wind bill signed this past summer by Gov. Chris Christie, the state is offering up to $100 million in tax credits in an effort to attract a manufacturer.

"Building the renewable industry in New Jersey is a priority for our administration," said Michele Siekerka, assistant commissioner for economic growth and green energy for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DOE). "New Jersey is well-poised -- and best poised of all the Mid-Atlantic states -- to make offshore wind a significant player in our renewable energy industry growth.’’

For that to happen, however, the state needs to finish drafting regulations that will set up a financial framework to allow developers to attract the backing they need to build the projects, said Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the offshore wind bill. The state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is drafting rules that would enable offshore wind farms to earn credits for the electricity they produce, similar to what owners of solar systems earn for the power their systems generate.

Faster to Go with Coal

Others said the Obama administration needs to continue to streamline the permitting process for offshore wind farms. "Right now, it is faster and easier to build a coal-fired power plant than an offshore wind farm," said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey.

The report noted estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy have projected the cost of offshore wind energy will be competitive with other forms of energy by 2020 -- about 13 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with the 14.78 cents average in the Mid-Atlantic region now. However, the study also noted initial costs of offshore wind projects will be much higher than the U.S. DOE’s projection.

“We don’t know the exact cost,’’ conceded Curtis Fisher, offshore wind initiative leader at the National Wildlife Federation and the author of the report.

Still, others said New Jersey and other states have no choice but to pursue offshore wind, given the benefits inherent in curbing pollution from fossil fuel plants. "The cost of doing nothing is having more mercury deposited in our rivers and streams," said Tom Fote of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association.

Nonetheless, the expense of solar and wind power is a concern of some. The Division of Rate Counsel recently projected that the cost of solar and wind subsidies by utility ratepayers could top $5 billion over the next two decades. The office also has proposed a 2.5 percent cap on offshore wind farms, limiting the price increase in any year to that amount.

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