The push to build an offshore wind industry reached a couple of milestones this past week, with the first turbines producing electricity off the coast of Rhode Island and a new lease off Long Island sold by the federal government.
The actions are the latest by the Obama administration to promote offshore wind as an alternative and cleaner source of energy, one that is well-established in Europe but nonexistent until this past week — when the nation’s first offshore wind farm began operating off Block Island.
Environmentalists in New Jersey, who lobbied, mostly unsuccessfully, to develop the renewable energy off the state’s coastline, lauded the progress. Their goal, however, is years away from being reached, even though the state was in the forefront when it came to passing legislation to promote the industry six years ago.
“It’s great news for offshore wind,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, referring to the opening of the Block Island wind farm, a 30-megawatt facility three miles off the island by Deepwater Wind, a company once interested in building off the Jersey coast.
“There is a bittersweet feeling because New Jersey should have been the first state with offshore wind,’’ O’Malley said.
The disappointment in falling behind other states is rooted, in part, in the administration. Gov. Chris Christie touted the benefits of offshore wind when he signed legislation establishing a framework for luring the sector here. But since then, the administration has cooled on the technology, describing it as too costly to utility customers, who would help subsidize the offshore wind farms.
The result is that the state has never developed the financing mechanism offshore wind developers say is crucial to convincing Wall Street to invest in the technology. Clean-energy advocates now concede any progress in moving forward on offshore wind likely will depend on a new governor, to be elected next November.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management already has auctioned off more than 300,000 acres along the Jersey coast, awarding leases to two successful bidders, U.S. Wind, Inc., and DONG Energy. The two companies are in the midst of site assessment studies, which not may be completed until March 2018.
Without the necessary financing rules, however, not much may happen, according to environmentalists. “By the time, the financing rules and permits are in place, it may be another three to four years after the next governor before we see offshore wind,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.
The sector faces other uncertainties, with a new administration taking control in Washington under President-elect Donald Trump, an avid proponent of fossil fuel development. Whether he reverses his predecessor’s push for offshore wind remains to be seen.
“The Trump administration clearly is going to push fossil fuels, but it will be hard to bottle up offshore wind for four years,’’ predicted O’Malley.
On Friday, the federal government announced the provisional winner of an auction of 79,350 acres about 12 miles from Jones Beach on Long Island. The winning bidder was Statoil Wind US LLC, with a proposal of more than $42.5 million.