State Regulators May Deep-Six Proposed Offshore Wind Farm

The 25-megawatt pilot project developed by Fishermen's Energy has languished for three years, but its days may be numbered

The state’s first proposed offshore wind farm may finally get a decision next week from regulators on whether the project will move forward, but developers are likely to be unhappy with what they hear.

The state Board of Public Utilities is expected next Wednesday to vote on a proposal by Fishermen’s Energy, LLC to build a 25-megawatt wind farm about three miles off Atlantic City. Several sources told NJ Spotlight that the staff is currently recommending the commissioners kill the project, which has been pending before the agency for three years.

The commissioners may reject the staff’s recommendation, but that seldom happens. The pilot aims to demonstrate the benefits of developing a robust new industry that could provide hundreds jobs while creating a cleaner way of producing electricity for homeowners and businesses, according to advocates.

If the state does reject the project, it may lead other offshore wind developers to question New Jersey’s commitment to fulfilling a target set by its Energy Master Plan. That target calls for the development of 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020, a goal most industry observers say now is unlikely to be met.

At one time, analysts thought New Jersey could be a leader in developing offshore wind — based upon the relatively shallow waters and high wind speeds along the coast. So far, that has not happened.

Fisherman’s Energy’s project initially drew opposition from both the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel and a consultant for the BPU, but in recent months, each came to agree that it complies with mandates of a bipartisan bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.

Still, the BPU staff has continued to oppose the project. In a filing in the regulatory case pending before the agency, the staff argued that the project did not meet the requirements of the 2010 law and questioned the technology used by the developer to generate electricity from the turbines.

The BPU does not comment publically on cases pending before the agency.

Chris Wisseman, chief executive officer of Fisherman’s Energy, disputed contentions that the project fails to comply with the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act.

“Saying no to this small project — one that meets not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law — speaks volumes about the BPU’s intention to find any possible reason not to proceed with an offshore wind project ever,’’ Wissemann said.

“During the last three years, it has appeared that the BPU has been more interested in finding reasons to say ‘no,’ than in working collaboratively to define what works best for New Jersey — either for this project or large scale projects,’’ he said.

Many legislators voiced the same criticism of the BPU, which also has yet to adopt a crucial mechanism in the offshore wind law. The measure directed the agency to set up a financing mechanism — paid for by electric customers — to help offshore wind developers line up backing for their projects from Wall Street. It has yet to happen.

To some, the lack of movement on offshore wind reflects a decision by the Christie administration to hold off acting on such projects because they could be a liability in Republican presidential primaries, should the governor decide to run for the nomination. Offshore wind is widely opposed by some conservative segments of the Republican party, a vital voting block in GOP primaries.

If the project is killed, it will not be lamented by much of the business community, which views offshore wind as spiking already high energy costs in New Jersey, a state saddled with some of the highest electric bills in the nation.