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Message to Offshore Wind Developers: Think Bigger

Participants at NJ Spotlight's Offshore Wind Roundtable stress the economies and advantages of scale.

New Jersey's and other states' ambitions for developing a robust offshore wind industry may not be big enough.

That was the message from energy experts at the NJ Spotlight Roundtable: The Promise of Offshore Wind yesterday at the Masonic Temple in Trenton.

The state is in the process of implementing offshore wind regulations aimed at generating 1,100 megawatts of power, but virtually all of the industry experts on the panel agreed that only much larger projects will be successful in attracting the manufacturers associated with building wind turbines and their many components.

"If I had one thing to emphasize, it’s scale, scale and scale," said Robert Mitchell, representing Atlantic Wind Connection, which is seeking to build a $6 billion backbone off the eastern seaboard to wheel power among the wind farms.

"Without scale, we may end up with two, three or four offshore wind farms, which is fine," Mitchell told the audience. "It is really not enough scale to enable New Jersey and other states to attract these manufacturers."

Target: 33,000

Rich Reno, general manager of offshore platforms for GE Energy, agreed. In the United Kingdom, few manufacturers were interested in locating there until there was agreement to push ahead on a target to develop 33,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, he said. Since then, Reno noted, "every manufacturer and their brother have announced plans to move to the United Kingdom."

Beyond the lure of attracting green jobs to the state, scale will help bring down the cost of offshore electricity, which is more expensive today than power generated from conventional nuclear stations and gas and coal-fired plants.

Already, some of the developers interested in building off the New Jersey coast are revising their plans upward to reflect the economies and other benefits of building utility-scale projects.

Scaling Up

For example, Garden State Offshore Energy, which originally planned on building a 350-megawatt wind farm off the coast, is now looking to expand it to 1,000 megawatts, according to Rob Gibbs, a vice president of PSEG Global, one of the partners in the venture. Garden State concluded the best way to achieve the state’s goal of creating jobs and economic development was through scale.

"It’s not the only path forward, but we believe it’s the best path forward," said Gibbs.

Besides Garden State Offshore Energy, Offshore MW, which had talked about also building a 350-megawatt farm, now says it is prepared to build as much as 700 megawatts off the New Jersey coast, according to Erich Stephens, a vice president with the company.

Two other developers have expressed interest in building roughly 300 megawatts of capacity. Fishermen’s Energy has already filed an application with the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to build the first phase of its project about 2.8 miles off Atlantic City. NRG Bluewater Wind is seeking to build a 350-megawatt wind farm.

In addition, Pavilion Energy Resources is a partner in a venture that wants to build a 1,100-megawatt wind farm and link it to Atlantic Wind Connection's backbone transmission system. The other developers have lined up connections with utility substations on land.

Ken Sheehan, chief counsel to BPU, said no project would move forward unless it could prove a net economic benefit to customers, but precisely how that will be demonstrated will be left to the developers when they submit applications to the agency.

Although some have said the rules lack specific standards, Gibbs said the offshore wind regulations unveiled last week are flexible enough to allow developers to spell out how their projects benefit the state.

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