Good News for Offshore Wind: Both Gubernatorial Candidates Back It

Tom Johnson | November 3, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Some experts say it’s not too late for New Jersey to develop a thriving sector based on offshore wind and related technologies

Offshore Wind Farm
For the first time in years, offshore wind projects may be a realistic part of the state’s energy future.

After next Tuesday’s election, clean-energy advocates expect a much more sympathetic administration to take office in January, boosting hopes that some time in next decade offshore wind turbines will produce electricity along the Jersey coast.

“Absolutely. Whichever candidate wins the election will be a refreshing change for New Jersey,’’ said Liz Burdock, executive director for the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

At one point, the state was expected to be a leader in offshore wind, passing a law more than seven years ago to promote the development of wind farms along the coast. The projects never got built, primarily because the Christie administration balked at implementing the law, fearing costs would spike energy bills.

Both gubernatorial candidates support offshore wind, and with two developers paying nearly $2 million to buy leases offshore to build turbines off the Jersey coast, prospects appear more favorable.

“I think it will happen fairly quickly,’’ says Dan Fatton, executive director of the Work Environment Council. “It’s going to be a huge priority.’’

Not overnight

It won’t happen overnight, however. By most estimates, the projects now being developed here by DONG Energy, which recently changed its name to Ørsted, and U.S. Wind are not expected to come on line by 2023 at the earliest.

Following that timeframe, the projects could lose lucrative tax credits under a new tax plan proposed yesterday by Republicans in Congress. Besides cutting wind tax credits by one-third, the proposal would phase out the credits by 2020 if the projects are not completed.

In New Jersey, too, the Christie administration never implemented a crucial part of the offshore wind law — developing a funding mechanism to pay for the electricity the wind farms produce. The provision is designed to have electricity customers subsidize the farms on their monthly bills. Without it, the developers are unlikely to line up financing for their projects from banks, according to clean-energy advocates.

If the developers overcome those hurdles, it could lead to up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity — more than double the 1,100-megawatt target set by the state’s Energy Master Plan. Democrat Phil Murphy’s environmental platform calls for 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

Legislation already has been introduced to achieve that goal, which has been endorsed by environmentalists and others.

“New Jersey’s offshore wind potential is second to none,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and a longtime proponent of the technology. “There’s a lot of companies ready to go.’’

Despite the delays, advocates argue it is not too late for New Jersey to emerge as a leader in the offshore-wind sector along the Eastern Seaboard, attracting well-paying green jobs to the state.

Those jobs could range from building offshore transmission modules to developing energy storage systems and cables to bring the electricity to shore, according to Burdock.

“There’s a lot of things New Jersey has going for it,’’ she said.