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The Squandered Promise of Offshore Wind in New Jersey

Today is the sixth anniversary of a bill to build a framework for a thriving offshore-wind sector; the first U.S. offshore wind farm is two months away — in Rhode Island

wind turbine

The nation’s first offshore wind farm is supposed to begin producing power in just about two months off the Rhode Island coast, but it be could until the middle of the next decade before turbines start turning off the Jersey coast.

That wasn’t the projection six years ago today, when Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill creating a framework to vault the state into the forefront of a yet-to-emerge offshore wind industry along the Eastern Seaboard.

But those dreams slowly came to an end, sputtering on missed deadlines, bureaucratic inaction, and concerns of the Christie administration that the potential cost to develop offshore wind will add to already steep energy bills in the state.

Six years after the law was signed, the state still has not come up with a funding mechanism that industry experts say is crucial to developing offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast — rated as having some of the most abundant wind resources.

The failure to adopt a funding strategy is frequently criticized by lawmakers and clean-energy advocates who had hoped to see New Jersey become the hub of a new green industry, a vision they fear is rapidly fading.

“Under the Christie administration, we’ve gone from being a leader in offshore winds to being a laggard,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and a prominent advocate for offshore wind.

The Christie administration’s Energy Master Plan recommended developing 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020, a target that will not be met. Two offshore wind developers — U.S. Wind Inc. and DONG Energy — have spent nearly $2 million securing leases to build wind farms to power as many as 1.2 million homes.

Even if a funding mechanism were in place, the two developers would still have to navigate years of regulatory reviews from not only the state, but also the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency spearheading the Obama administration’s efforts to build an offshore wind sector off the coast.

At an informational meeting in Trenton this May, BOEM officials said it is unlikely the construction phase of the two projects will begin before 2023.

Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the state Board of Public Utilities, the state agency developing the funding mechanism, said work on the issue is ongoing.

“BOEM just did the leases,’’ Reinert said. “It’s not needed yet. It is going to be a couple of years before the mechanism is even timely.’’

O’Malley was not surprised by the state’s response. “It’s a new year and a new excuse,’’ he said.

Despite the delays, there is some action occurring in the offshore-wind sector in New Jersey. The Business Network for Offshore Wind is set to open a new office in Woodbridge to help build an offshore-wind supply chain for the business community.

“New Jersey is the next frontier,’’ said Liz Burdock, executive director of the network, based in Baltimore. “We see a lot of potential to develop a regional pipeline where businesses can take advantage of the opportunities.’’ Besides New Jersey, the federal agency is trying to develop offshore wind farms off Long Island.

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