Measure Ratchets Up Targets for NJ’s Offshore-Wind Industry

Tom Johnson | October 15, 2014 | Energy & Environment
Backers say bill, which calls for 4,500 megawatts by 2050, isn’t meant for the Christie administration but for one friendlier to renewable subsidies

wind turbine
The state’s efforts to promote the development of offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast have, so far, come to naught. But that is not preventing lawmakers from ramping up the amount of electricity supplied to residents that must come from wind turbines.

A bill (S-2444) being considered by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee would require 3,000 megawatts of generation from offshore wind projects by 2030 and 4,500 megawatts by 2050 be delivered to customers. That is far more than the 1,100 megawatts that would be required by 2020, a goal few think will ever be met. In fact, the measure eliminates the 1,100-megawatt target.

The proposal is part of a bill that would require 80 percent of New Jersey’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, by 2050. But even its advocates acknowledge the legislation stands little chance of being approved anytime soon, although they hope to lay the groundwork for passage in the next administration.

Both the Christie administration and the Legislature once viewed offshore wind as an opportunity to develop a new green industry off the coast, a move that would create thousands of well-paying jobs and provide a needed spur to the state’s economy.

Those hopes have not been realized, in large part because the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has yet to adopt a funding mechanism to provide support — in the form of ratepayers’ subsidies — to offshore wind developers, which they claim is needed to finance Wall Street backing for the projects.

Critics of the Christie administration blame the delay on Gov. Chris Christie’s ambitions to run for president, saying he does not want to promote offshore wind for fear it would spur a backlash against some members of the GOP who oppose subsidies for renewable energy.

Not that the business community is in any rush to develop offshore wind, a prospect it worries would raise already high energy rates in the state saddled with some of the highest costs in the nation.

“I’m sure the poor people in the urban centers will be ready to subsidize the excesses of offshore wind,’’ said Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey, an organization that has often railed about the high costs of electricity and gas in the state.

The rising costs of subsidies to support renewable energy have become an increasing concern among both the business community and the state Division of Rate Counsel, which opposed the bill in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

But advocates of the bill say opponents’ arguments about the costs fail to reflect the benefits of moving to cleaner ways of producing electricity in a state long-burdened with air pollution problems that affect public health, particularly among the young and elderly populations.

They view the bill as a marker that will be eventually accepted by a new administration, once Christie’s term ends in January 2018 — or sooner, if the governor decides to run for president and resigns his office.

“We are talking about policy over the next 36 years,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director of New Jersey Clean Water Action. “Shame on the Christie administration for caring more about presidential primaries in 2016 than the health and safety of people who he is supposed to represent now,’’ Pringle said.

Doug O’Malley, executive director of Environment New Jersey, agreed. “New Jersey is sitting on a gold mind of potential for offshore wind,’’ he said, referring to studies that cite the tremendous wind resources off the Jersey coast.

Eric Stephens, a vice president of Offshore MW, which is seeking to develop a large offshore wind farm along the Jersey coast, agreed. He noted that the Netherlands recently announced a plan to develop 4,500 megawatts of offshore wind farms.

“If the Netherlands can do it, I don’t understand why New Jersey can’t do it,’’ Stephens said.