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State Puts the Brakes on Offshore Wind Farm Initiative -- Again

The BPU will delay decision on Fishermen's Energy proposal until end of year or longer.

The state is once again putting off moving ahead on developing offshore wind projects along the Jersey coast.

The Board of Public Utilities yesterday posted a notice on its website announcing it will delay at least until the end of the year acting on the first application to come before the agency seeking approval to build a wind farm three miles off of Atlantic City.

The announcement comes only two days after the Christie administration came under criticism from top legislative leaders for failing to adopt rules that would enable offshore wind developers to line up financing for their projects, regulations that were supposed to be adopted more than 16 months ago.

The project in question, Fishermen’s Atlantic City Wind Farm, is already facing huge hurdles to win approval from the state agency. Both a BPU-retained consultant and one retained by the Division of Rate Counsel suggested the project fails to meet a key threshold established by a law designed to promote offshore wind -- it does not deliver a net economic benefit to the state.

The findings have led the developer to seek several delays to answer its critics, the latest request coming about two weeks ago.

Fishermen’s Atlantic City wind farm, a 25-megawatt facility located 2.8 miles off the resort, is a demonstration project to prove the viability of building wind turbines along the coast. In July, it received the final construction permit needed for the proposal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In February, however, a consultant retained by the Division of Rate Counsel concluded the costs of the project were simply too high to justify ratepayer financial support. Under a law aimed at promoting offshore wind development, the electricity produced by the wind farms, which would be paid by electric customers.

Fishermen’s Energy took issue with that conclusion and another finding by a BPU-retained consultant.

Rhonda Jackson, a spokesperson for Fishermen’s Energy blamed the latest delay on problems associated with being the first offshore wind project to come before the board. “It’s a learning experience for everybody,’’ she said. “It’s new.’’

Fishermen’s may submit an administrative change to its application sometime next month, according to Jackson.

The Christie administration has repeatedly said it wants New Jersey to be the center of the offshore wind industry on the eastern seaboard, saying it could create thousands of well-paying green jobs in the sector. Its efforts mirror proposals by the federal government to do the same. Eleven developers have expressed interest in building wind farms off the Jersey coast.

In granting the new extension, BPU President Bob Hanna noted the state and others have invested significant financial and expert resources in studying the application. If there are further modifications to the application, even more resources may be needed as well as additional time, according to Hanna.

“Based on these facts and circumstances, and in the interest of preserving resources, I find that FACW’s request for an extension is reasonable,’’ Hanna said in his order. The BPU declined further comment.

Clean energy advocates had a different view.

“We have an administration that says they support wind, but seem to be doing everything to delay wind from going forward off our coast,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The fact that Fishermen’s Energy had to petition the BPU will add additional hurdles and costs to make wind a reality.’’

But Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand defended the process noting that the federal government still has not awarded leases for the offshore wind farms.

“It makes sense to get this right, especially since we have the time,’’ Brand said. “We’re breaking ground on this. Really, really smart people are working on this, but it’s hard.’’

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