Its Day in Court Over, Fishermen’s Energy Revamps Offshore-Wind Proposal

Company believes reconfigured project can meet BPU’s criteria for approval, but crucial financing mechanism still missing from market

wind turbine
Having exhausted the legal process, Fishermen’s Energy is revamping its often-denied pilot offshore wind-farm project in an effort to finally win state approval for the proposal.

The 25-megawatt wind farm in shallow coastal waters three miles off Atlantic City has been rejected twice by the state Board of Public Utilities, a decision upheld by a state appeals court. The New Jersey Supreme Court let that decision stand in a ruling last week.

The rejection of the project has angered some lawmakers who strongly back efforts to develop offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast, a goal that has proven elusive. A bipartisan bill to promote wind turbines to produce power was approved five years ago, but no projects have been OK’d by the state agency.

In fact, the Fishermen’s Energy proposal is the only one to be submitted to the BPU, but the agency rejected it for a variety of reasons, including concerns about its cost to utility customers, who would pay for the electricity.

Fishermen’s said it has been working on reconfiguring the project as the legal process wound its course.

“With the legal challenges behind us, we can now announce progress we have made to reconfigure the project to address the issues raised in denying approval last year — namely cost, using proven turbines and traditional sources of project financing,’’ said Chris Wissemann, chief executive officer of Fishermen’s Energy.

Instead of using a Chinese manufacturer of turbines, the company has been working with Siemens to utilize its 4-megawatt turbine, Wissemann said, one he claimed is ideally suited for waters off the coast of New Jersey,

In addition, the company is negotiating with equity investors in the energy field to line up financing for the project, according to Daniel Cohen, chairman and founder of Fishermen’s Energy.

[related]Fishermen’s officials are hoping to begin meetings with the BPU on how new applications can be developed to pass the agency’s criteria for approval. “By working together we believe we can reduce the cost to a level that meets the BPU’s objectives,’’ said Paul Gallagher, the company’s chief operating officer.

It may take some convincing. At this point, the BPU appeared to be relieved the legal process had ended.

“I’m grateful the New Jersey Supreme Court’s order brings this matter to a resolution and seeks not to disturb the Appellate Division’s affirmation of the BPU’s review and conclusion,’’ said Richard Mroz, president of the agency.

As that process was ongoing, the federal government announced plans to offer leases this November for offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast, beginning seven nautical miles from the shore. Up to 13 offshore wind developers, including Fishermen’s Energy, are expected to participate in the auction of the leases.

One big obstacle, however, remains unanswered. The state still has yet to develop a financing mechanism to help support the farms, the cost of which would be borne by utility customers in New Jersey. Without such a mechanism, it is unlikely any projects would prove feasible, according to developers.