Developer Pitches State Agency on Tidal Power

Tom Johnson | August 12, 2011 | Energy & Environment
Advocates of wide array of alternative energies present their arguments at final hearing on Energy Master Plan

When owners of solar systems generate electricity, they earn credits subsidized by ratepayers. The same will be true if, and when, offshore wind farms start generating power about 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey. Now developers of tidal power want a piece of the action.

A developer pushing tidal power as a viable energy source in New Jersey, yesterday called on the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to adopt a pilot program to develop 10 megawatts of tidal capacity from currents off the Jersey coast. He also asked the agency to promote the industry by adopting a Tidal Renewable Energy Credit, similar to what the administration and lawmakers have done to stimulate the offshore wind industry.

According to projections by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, a minimum of 500 megawatts of tidal energy capacity could be developed off the coast and as much as 1,000 megawatts of capacity if the right tools are put in place, said Roger Bason, president and founder of Natural Currents Energy Services, LLC, a developer of tidal technology.

Energy Advocates

Bason was one of many advocates who called on the BPU to embrace their technology yesterday at the third and final hearing on the Christie administration’s draft Energy Master Plan. People championed combined heat and power plants, which generate electricity while simultaneously using the heat to cool and warm nearby facilities, as well as energy from waste facilities, which burn trash and produce electricity in the process.

If anything, there hardly was a consensus among those who spoke at the hearing at Stockton State College. Some praised the administration for recognizing that nuclear power has to be the part of the mix in order to ensure that businesses and residents of receive electricity to power their homes and firms.

Others like Paula Gotch of Grandmothers, Mothers, and More for Energy Safety, argued that nuclear energy is not cost-effective, as evidenced by the cancellation of several proposed nuclear plants in Texas and North Carolina.

“Right now, we are at a crossroads,” Gotch told the board. “We should pick winners and losers. We should pick sustainable energy.”

As in past hearings, solar advocates called on the agency to take steps to stop a drop in prices of solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), which owners of solar systems earn for the electricity they produce. Once fetching prices well above $600, the price on the spot market has dropped to as low as $175 in recent days.

“There’s no telling where the bottom is,” said Lyle Rawlings, vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association. “We are worried about what happens to schools and municipalities. Some will be in deep trouble if nothing is done,” said Rawlings, who advocates acceleration of the solar Renewable Portfolio Standard and more control imposed by the state, on what solar projects are approved.

Ed Salmon, a former president of the BPU and now chairman of Salmon Ventures, urged the agency to establish a floor on prices for the solar renewable energy certificates as a way of stabilizing the market and “allowing it to flourish.”

That view has been repeatedly advocated by solar industry proponents in recent weeks as the price of the solar certificates has dropped.

However, Christie administration officials do not seem inclined to adopt that approach. “The market is doing what it is supposed to do,” said Stefanie Brand, director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel. “The market is dropping because there is more competition and it is causing the price of solar systems to drop.”