The state Legislature appears poised to try to breathe some life into New Jersey’s moribund offshore wind program.
Next Monday the Senate Environment and Energy Committee plans to hold hearings on two separate measures aimed at prodding the Christie administration into acting on issues that have stymied the development of offshore wind projects along the Jersey coast.
Offshore wind ostensibly has the backing of most lawmakers and the Christie administration four-and-half years after the Legislature passed a bill endorsing the concept, detailed in the state’s Energy Master Plan, of supporting at least 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind generation.
It has yet to happen or even come close to occurring — especially by the 2020 timeframe identified in the act and Energy Master Plan. This past November, the New Jersey Board of Utilities blocked for the second time a small pilot project a few miles off Atlantic City that would have been the state’s first offshore wind development, saying the proposal would be too expensive for utility customers, who would help finance it.
The reason why offshore wind has not happened — even though the federal government says New Jersey’s coastline offers some of the best offshore wind resources — is a matter of dispute. At least a dozen developers have expressed an interest in building winds farms along the coast.
To critics, however, the economics of offshore wind make little sense, particularly with historically low natural gas prices in a state burdened with some of the nation’s highest electric bills. A growing portion of the state’s electricity is produced by conventional natural-gas-fired power plants.
Clean-energy advocates, however, argue that offshore wind farms will not contribute to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global climate change. It also could boost New Jersey’s efforts to jumpstart a green economy, a point made in one of the bills to be taken up by the committee.
“The development of offshore wind projects has the associated potential to develop a manufacturing and support industry in the state, resulting in both economic and environmental benefits,’’ according to SR-112. Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) is the chairman of the Senate committee that is the sponsor of both bills.
The resolution urges the BPU to expeditiously adopt regulations that would set up a financing program through utility customers’ bills, which would provide backing for offshore wind. Some say that is necessary to attract Wall St. money to these projects. The failure of the administration to act on the rules is viewed by some as being driven in part by Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions, because large segments of the Republican party oppose subsidies for offshore wind and other renewable-energy sources.
While neither proposal may pass muster with the administration, some environmentalists welcomed the discussion. “Finally, we get to discuss what is holding back offshore wind,’’ said Bill Wolfe, director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group representing state workers who are engaged in environmental issues.
In addition, the resolution asks the BPU to establish an electric and gas energy portfolio standard, which would require utilities to reduce usage and demand by customers, a strategy that would lower consumer and business bills, according to proponents.
Other bills that would promote that effort, however, have gained little traction in the Legislature. They also have yet to be embraced by either the administration or the state Division of Rate Counsel, which has often opposed proposals to have ratepayers subsidize new clean-energy projects by added surcharges on their bills. It is an argument the business community also shares.