Offshore Wind Developer May Set Up Shop in New Jersey

Move could nudge dream of Jersey dominance of offshore wind closer to reality

The developer of a proposed offshore wind transmission backbone is looking at putting a manufacturing facility in the port of Paulsboro, a move that might bolster New Jersey’s efforts to become the hub of the offshore wind sector along the Eastern Seaboard.

“We’re committed to working in New Jersey,’’ said Bill Wall, director of marine operations for Atlantic Wind Connection. The Google-backed proposal intends to establish a 300-mile-long transmission system to serve offshore wind farms.

“We’re going to build an industry in New Jersey,’’ he added.

There are a lot of big “ifs” associated with the proposal, including whether the state can come up with a workable funding mechanism to help offshore wind developers line up financing for their projects. Still, the AWC statement is the first time anyone has publically vowed to build a manufacturing facility for offshore wind in New Jersey.

The Christie administration and lawmakers have proposed developing 1,100 megawatts of generating capacity from wind farms off the Jersey coast, but the efforts have been mired in bureaucratic delays at both state and federal levels.

The delays have drawn criticism from clean energy advocates and even raised questions privately among offshore wind developers as to whether the state’s commitment to the technology is real.

But Wall remains bullish about the sector, speaking at a conference on renewable energy in New Brunswick. The gathering was sponsored by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, a division of the State Bar Association,

“It’s the perfect landing for offshore wind,’’ Wall said, referring to plans to begin the backbone off the coast of Jersey. There are great wind resources offshore; plenty of people to use the power the wind farms generate; a gently sloping ocean floor to anchor the wind turbines; and high energy costs in the region, according to Wall.

Atlantic Wind Connection is looking at locating a facility in Paulsboro, where New Jersey is trying to convert a former oil refinery into a port serving the offshore wind sector.

If the Paulsboro proposal goes forward, AWC would hire a contractor to manufacture and assemble the equipment it would need at hub platforms, where electricity from the offshore farms would be converted from AC into DC. The conversion is necessary to reduce loss when transmitting power to New Jersey and elsewhere, according to Wall.

AWC plans to invest $2 billlion in New Jersey, including the Paulsboro project. “There’s going to be a lot of people employed in New Jersey,’’ Wall said, noting that the technology used to deploy submarine cables to bring the electricity to shore; to build wind turbines; and to establish offshore energy platforms is at least 50 years old or older. “This is not rocket science.’’

None of that will happen, however, unless the state can establish a program to direct subsidies from New Jersey ratepayers to the offshore wind farms. This would help finance the projects by awarding so-called Offshore Renewable Energy Credits (ORECs) for the electricity they produce.

If Atlantic Wind Connection can show it will bring thousands of jobs to New Jersey, then hopefully the state will move forward with the OREC program, Wall said.

The state has not been the only bottleneck blocking the developing offshore wind.

Just last week, a bureau in the U.S. Department of Interior announced it would hold lease sales off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. State officials have said New Jersey was not included in the sales, primarily because more developers are seeking to bid on the same tracts off the Jersey coast. The sale of leases off the Jersey coast is not expected to happen until next spring, at the earliest.

Others were more optimistic about the development of offshore wind.

Peter Fursaro, chairman of Global Change Associates, a New York-based energy and environmental consulting firm, said wind is now cost-competitive with more conventional technologies, and investment in the sector is growing — despite all ‘’the noise’’ in Washington.

“You will see offshore wind off of Long Island and New Jersey,’’ he said. “If you don’t believe in climate change, you’ve got your head in the sand.’’