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Offshore Wind Farm Gets Closer to Cranking Out Megawatts

Long-delayed pilot off Atlantic City gets OK from legislative panel, but some environmentalists argue it’s time to move directly to full-scale projects

wind

A legislative panel has advanced a bill to allow a small pilot offshore wind farm off Atlantic City to move forward despite concerns from a couple of organizations that usually back such efforts.

The bill (A-2485) would revive the Fishermen’s Energy proposal, a $210 million, 24-megawatt project three miles off the city’s coast. During the Christie administration, it was rejected twice by a state agency over fears it would spike bills for electricity customers.

Proponents of the project argue it would demonstrate the state’s commitment to aggressively develop an offshore wind industry, a goal strongly endorsed by Gov. Phil Murphy, in contrast to the policy of his predecessor.

Getting serious about wind

It won approval from the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee on Thursday, with backers arguing it is time the state gets serious about promoting offshore wind.

“It’s time to get moving again to truly harness the incredible potential we have in New Jersey for offshore wind,’’ said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, a Democrat from Atlantic County and the sponsor of the bill.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, told the committee the offshore wind potential of New Jersey is the strongest of any state along the entire Eastern Seaboard. “There’s still value in the Fishermen’s Energy project,’’ said O’Malley, even though it is only a small step toward achieving the administration’s goal of developing 3,500 megawatt offshore wind capacity by 2030.

Without offshore wind, it will be difficult to reach the administration’s target of having 100 percent of the state’s electricity produced by renewable energy by 2050, O’Malley said.

Against the wind

But other clean advocates argued otherwise. They argued the state should focus on building offshore wind farms in federal waters where two developers, U.S. Wind and Ørsted, have purchased leases to build enough capacity to provide power to 1.5 million homes.

“We really need to make sure the projects are economically feasible,’’ said Kelly Mooji, a vice president of New Jersey Audubon, referring to the Fishermen’s Energy proposal. Mooji also said projects closer to the coast have a bigger and more adverse effect on marine and birds.

At one time, the Fishermen’s Energy project made sense as a pilot, but offshore wind has been proved viable not only in Europe but also in the United States, where the nation’s first wind turbines are operating, according to others.

“I don’t know if the bill is really appropriate now,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We don’t need to concentrate on a smaller project that has a higher cost.’’

But Paul Gallagher, chief operating officer for Fishermen’s, countered that the project is fully permitted and ready to go. The pilot calls for four, six megawatt-turbines to be built about three miles off the resort city.

If the bill is signed into law, the project would still have to be approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and would have to meet a tough standard that its net economic benefits outweigh the cost to ratepayers, who will have to pay for the electricity the turbines produce.

Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, the chairman of the committee, defended the project in a press release after the vote, citing the enormous potential of offshore wind. “These projects cannot be delayed any longer,’’ he said.

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