NJ Left Out of Auction for Offshore Wind Farm Leases — Again

Tom Johnson | September 5, 2013 | Energy & Environment
State's absence could further slow efforts to build thriving wind industry off Jersey coast

offshore wind
For the second time in two months, the federal government is auctioning leases to build offshore wind farms along the Eastern Seaboard — once again without including New Jersey.

The latest auction involved 112,800 acres approximately 25 miles off the Virginia coast capable of producing about 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power some 700,000 houses.

The auction follows two earlier ones by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that offered leases for offshore wind farms along Massachusetts and Rhode Island in July.

The failure to offer leases on the Jersey coast, where the Christie administration is purportedly trying to develop an offshore wind industry capable of generating 1,100 megawatts by 2020, once again raises questions about how successful the state’s efforts will be.

More than three years after the state Legislature approved a bill promoting offshore wind development in New Jersey, a state regulatory agency has still failed to adopt a financing mechanism that would help developers fund their projects.

The law was hailed by advocates as the impetus needed to build a thriving offshore wind industry in New Jersey, leading to a robust green economy that would provide well-paying union jobs.

It has yet to happen.

According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the auction for New Jersey’s offshore leases will be held in late 2013 or 2014. John Reinert, a spokesman for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, stated, “We have no explanations for the delay at the federal agency.’’

The federal agency did not respond to a call for comment.

Clean energy advocates, however, were not surprised by the lack of wind-farm leases along the Jersey coast — even though at least 11 developers have expressed interest in bidding for them.

“This is a governor who when he wants something done, it gets done,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and a frequent critic of the administration. “It clearly shows there’s a lack of movement for offshore wind because of his national ambitions.’’

Offshore wind power is frequently criticized by right-wing groups who claim it is too expensive an alternative to conventionally produced electricity from fossil fuel plants and nuclear generating units.

Some industry lobbyists in New Jersey agree.

“It’s too expensive,’’ said Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey. “I’m a proponent of lower energy rates for both industrial and residential customers, who pay the fifth- and seventh-highest rates in the nation.’’

But there is strong support for offshore wind among powerful lawmakers, who hope a fledgling offshore wind sector could create thousands of jobs at a revitalized port in Paulsboro in South Jersey.

But unless the BPU agrees on a financing mechanism, an issue that has stumped developers and state officials for the past few years, it is unlikely that any offshore wind projects will be developed off the coast of New Jersey.

The chief stumbling block has been a fear by developers that money supposed to be funneled to offshore wind farms for the electricity they produce could be diverted by the Legislature and future administrations to plug holes in state budgets. Nearly $1 billion in clean energy funds have been siphoned off to help balance budgets during the Christie administration.