Feds Announce Plans to Sell Leases for Offshore Wind Off New Jersey’s Coast

But is the state ready to foster development of the renewable technology?

nj windlease map
The federal government plans to conduct a lease sale for potential wind farms off the coast of New Jersey later this year, but whether the state will have its own policies in place to make the technology happen is questionable.

The U.S. Interior Department yesterday held the sixth competitive lease sale along the Eastern Seaboard for offshore wind — this time along the coast of Massachusetts. At the same time, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency overseeing the process, said it expects to hold another competitive lease sale offshore New Jersey later this year.

At one time, at least 11 developers told the agency they were interested in bidding for leases off the Jersey coast, but the process has taken longer than expected. In the past, Gov. Chris Christie has faulted the federal government for delays in promoting offshore wind development in New Jersey.

But the state is not blameless either. It has failed to develop a program that would allow subsidies from ratepayers to finance the projects. Without those subsidies, wind developers say the projects will never happen.

The failure to adopt the necessary regulations has riled the Legislature — where offshore wind development enjoys strong support. This past Monday, a Senate panel approved a measure (SR-112) that aims to prod the Christie administration to adopt the needed rules, which have yet to even be proposed formally.

Identical legislation was introduced in the Assembly yesterday. “Offshore wind projects can deliver real economic benefits for New Jersey, so it’s important that the Board of Public Utilities adopt these regulations and allow our state to take full advantage of those opportunities,’’ said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic), who introduced the legislation.

The state’s Energy Master Plan and a law signed by Christie in 2010 proposed to develop at least 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind by 2020, a prospect becoming increasingly unlikely.

The federal government’s plans for developing offshore wind in New Jersey waters, beginning about seven miles off the coast of Atlantic City, are even more ambitious. Its proposed lease sale would cover 344,000 acres. If fully developed, it would be able to support 3,400 megawatts of commercial wind generation, enough to power about 1.2 million homes, according to the Department of Energy’s Natural Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Because of its relatively shallow coastal waters and abundant offshore wind, New Jersey is seen by federal officials and others as an excellent location to build wind farms.

Not everyone is supportive of the state’s efforts to promote offshore wind, though. In a state with some of the highest energy costs in the nation, many business groups fear it would spike rates even higher at a time when the commercial sector has seen costs fall because of historically low natural gas prices.

At one time, state officials hoped New Jersey would become the hub of an emerging offshore wind industry, creating thousands of jobs in the so-called green economy. The fact that the federal government has now awarded six competitive offshore wind leases raises questions as to whether that goal will be achieved — even among developers who have long been interested in New Jersey’s coastal waters.

“We are interested in states that offer policies that support offshore wind,’’ said Erich Stephens, vice president of OffshoreMW, which has long been involved in the state’s process to develop wind farms. “We thought New Jersey was one of those states, but now it is not clear.’’

OffshoreMW was one of the winners of the lease sales off the Massachusetts coast.

Earlier this week, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) blamed the state’s lack of progress on the fact that Christie is widely expected to run as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. “I think the governor’s ambitions changed,’’ Sweeney said on Monday.

“The big issue is the federal government is ready to act,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We are still waiting for the Christie administration.’’