Newly Created Wind Coalition Hopes to Catch Washington’s Attention

Four New Jersey offshore wind developers are among the founding members of a new alternative energy alliance

Looking to have a bigger voice in energy issues in Washington, D.C., a group of offshore wind developers, including four companies bidding to build wind farms off the New Jersey coast, has formed a new coalition to promote the alternative energy in the nation’s capitol.

Jim Lanard, former managing director of Deepwater Wind, will be president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition (OffshoreWindDC), an offshoot of the American Wind Energy Association, which promotes wind power for both land-based and offshore wind farms.

The coalition has been established just as New Jersey and other states up and down the eastern seaboard are enthusiastically embracing offshore wind farms as a cleaner way of delivering electricity to customers. Wind also has the potential to deliver lucrative economic development and jobs as added benefits. The coalition’s founding also coincides with the shakeup of the federal agency overseeing offshore wind development in the wake of its handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil drilling disaster.

Growing Interest in Offshore Wind

“The creation of this coalition demonstrates the growing interest in offshore wind energy in the U.S.,” said Denise Bode, chief executive officer of AWEA. “Offshore wind provides a great opportunity to increase the use of renewable energy, thanks to strong and steady winds that blow off our shores and proximity to electricity demand centers, particularly along the eastern seaboard.’’

Lanard, who spent some of his career in the state as the executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby, said he had allocated about half of his time at Deepwater Wind, working on federal policy issues. “A lot of the developers have been talking about having a stronger voice in Washington,” he said.

Lanard had been designated by the developers to recruit someone to run the new coalition, but when his candidate decided to take another job, Lanard asked Deepwater if he could run the new organization. “This is what I really love to do: Push the policy issues so that the Industry can thrive,’’ he said.

New Capacity Off the Coast

Deepwater Wind is a partner with PSEG Renewable Energy Generation in Garden State Offshore Energy, which is trying to build a 350-megawatt wind farm about 16 miles off the coast of South Jersey. It is one of four offshore developers seeking to build new capacity off the coast, all of which have joined the coalition and helped fund it. The others include Fishermen’s Energy, NRG Bluewater Wind, and Offshore MW.

According to the U.S. Energy Department, the U.S. has vast offshore wind resources, particularly off the eastern seaboard and in the Great Lakes. There are approximately 5,000 megawatts of projects that have been proposed in the U.S., including about 1,110 off the New Jersey coast.

The state’s energy master plan calls for 3,000 megawatts of electricity to generated from wind farms by 2020, a prospect some in the business community call unrealistic and, if achieved, could lead to big spikes in customer’s electric bills. The four projects in New Jersey have a projected price tag of $7 billion, according to estimates by the state Board of Public Utilities.

Because wind power is more expensive than conventional power, economic development and creation of new jobs will be an important component of the coalition’s efforts, Lanard said.

Shorter Waits for Permits

“Every state wants to compete and attract the businesses in this area that can spur growth and jobs,’’ Lanard said. “The states will more likely to have offshore wind energy if they are getting added benefits beyond that of reducing climate change and cleaner energy.’’

A top priority of the coalition will to find ways to shorten the time frame for receiving the necessary federal permits to allow offshore wind farms to be built. Currently, the issuing permits is expected to take as long as seven years. The developers would like to tighten it to somewhere in the two- to three- year range.

Another issue facing the coalition is trying to separate offshore wind permits from the new agency that has emerged from the old Minerals Management Service, which has been renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Lanard said. The coalition does not want offshore wind projects to be tied up in debate associated with oil and gas drilling, which might happen if it remained in the new agency.

Meanwhile, the developers are awaiting action by Gov. Chris Christie on a bill designed to set up a financing framework, which would allow offshore wind developers to secure the funding necessary to build their projects. The bill passed the Legislature at the end of July, and is expected to be signed by the Governor, although there are some concerns about provisions in the bill that offer lucrative tax incentives to wind manufacturers to locate in South Jersey, according to sources familiar with the issue. The administration does not want to restrict the incentives to merely South Jersey, the sources said.