Federal Lawmakers Urge Christie to Get the Lead Out on Offshore Wind

Elusive financing mechanism remains linchpin of state’s efforts to capitalize on wind power along coastline

U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, both of New Jersey.
Gov. Chris Christie needs to get moving on implementing a five-year-old law aimed at promoting offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast, according to the state’s two U.S. senators and a senior member of the congressional delegation.

In a letter to the governor yesterday, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, along with fellow Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone, said despite signing the law in 2010, the Christie administration has failed to enact the key provision that would pave the way to building the wind farms.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it will auction early next month leases for 344,833 acres along the Jersey Shore to develop offshore wind power. But wind developers and clean-energy advocates say no wind farms will be built unless the state adopts regulations that would help pay for the construction of the facilities.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is more than four years late in adopting the needed regulations, being unable to agree on the scope of such a financing mechanism. The law would allow the offshore developers to be paid for the electricity the turbines produce, largely by subsidies from utility ratepayers.

The agency plans to hire a consultant to write the regulations, but has yet to do so.

In the letter, the Democrats said the bipartisan state law — called the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act (OWEDA) — needs to be implemented to ensure a successful federal auction.

“We encourage your administration to move as quickly as possible to fully implement OWEDA, to ensure a clear and robust state policy to complement the efforts of the federal government,’’ the letter said.

[related]The BPU has said the administration supports offshore wind provided it is done in a way that is economically sound and protects ratepayers.

In urging quick action by the state, the federal lawmakers said offshore wind
“has incredible potential to spur new manufacturing in New Jersey, create good-paying jobs, and provide our residents with a clean, affordable, and abundant source of power.’’

Offshore wind is a key component of the state’s Energy Master Plan, calling for the development of at least 1,100 megawatts of wind capacity by 2020, a goal that is unlikely to be met.

The state’s failure to adopt the funding mechanism has often drawn the ire of state legislators, who at one time thought New Jersey would be a leader in developing offshore wind. This summer, Rhode Island began building a 30-megawatt offshore wind project.

If the leases up for auction, scheduled for November 9, are fully developed, federal officials said they could sustain at least 3,400 megawatts of capacity — enough to power 1.2 million homes.

“Hopefully, this federal auction will push the Christie administration to move forward on the financing rules,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.