Feds in Trenton to Talk Next Steps on NJ’s Elusive Path to Offshore Wind

According to latest estimates, developers not likely to begin building offshore wind farms before 2023

offshore wind
By 2021, the state projected there would be enough wind turbines spinning off the Jersey coast to produce about 1,100 megawatts of clean electricity, enough to power about 1 million homes.

It isn’t close to happening.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency overseeing the Obama administration’s efforts to develop offshore wind as a national energy resource, came to Trenton last week to outline the next steps in New Jersey moving toward its goal.

The prognosis: A lot more needs to be accomplished before residents ever see wind farms off the coast — even though two developers have spent close to $2 million securing leases last fall allowing them to build the facilities about 12 miles from the Jersey shore.

The next step in the process is that the two developers — DONG Energy and U.S. Wind — have one year from this past March 16 (possibly two, if the latter is granted an extension by the federal agency) to complete a site assessment of their respective locations.

Once those plans are approved, the developers have another four-and-half-years to complete operational plans and submit them to BOEM, making it unlikely that the construction phase of these project will begin before 2023.

“We are just getting started,’’ acknowledged Brandi Colander, deputy assistant secretary for lands and minerals at the U.S. Department of Interior, BOEM’s parent agency. “We are not naïve to the technological challenges of introducing a new technology.’’

The New Jersey leases, the seventh along the Eastern Seaboard, were auctioned off by BOEM in November, drawing interest from three offshore wind developers, including Fishermen’s Energy, which is based in South Jersey. It did not win a lease.

Actually, the technology may be new in the United States, but not elsewhere; many offshore wind farms now in operation in northern Europe. DONG Energy, a Danish firm that acquired the lease won by RES America, produces one-third of its electricity from the world’s largest offshore wind facilities, according to Laura Burm, public affairs manger for DONG Energy’s U.S. affiliate.

Burm conceded it would likely be 2023 before Ocean Wind, the newly named offshore wind project it is developing in Jersey waters will be online.

Paul Rich, project developer for the other developer, U.S. Wind, Inc., said there are too many uncertainties in the process to project when its proposed wind farm might be operational. The company also has secured a lease to build a facility offshore in Maryland, which could be in service by 2020, Rich said.

In New Jersey, clean-energy advocates have been highly critical of the state Board of Public Utilities for failing to enact a financing mechanism — as required under a six-year-old state law — that is viewed as critical to making offshore wind happen. Maryland is the only state on the Eastern Seaboard with such a financing tool.

After signing the law, Gov. Chris Christie has cooled to the prospect of offshore wind, fearing it could boost energy costs to consumers and businesses, who would end up footing a big portion of the expense of developing wind farms.

Still, Rich sees “enormous potential’’ for offshore wind along the Jersey coast. He noted that Maryland dealt with the concerns about cost by limiting any increase to residential customers to at most $1.50 on their monthly bill and a boost of a maximum of 1.5 percent on the annual bill of large energy users.