Offshore Wind: Is the Long Wait over for New Jersey?

The 24-megawatt Fishermen’s Energy pilot could pick up a tailwind thanks to governor’s ambitious clean-energy agenda

wind turbine
Fishermen’s Energy, a small, pilot offshore wind farm three miles from Atlantic City, may happen after all.

The 24-megawatt project, twice rejected by the Christie administration, could be revived under a bill (A-2485) up for consideration on Thursday in a legislative committee.

The resurgence of the project reflects a renewed commitment to develop offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast, a goal first pronounced in legislation adopted with widespread support and fanfare nearly eight years ago, but left to wither in the wind by the previous governor.

Gov. Phil Murphy has made it a top priority in his clean-energy agenda, establishing a goal of 3,500 megawatts of capacity of offshore wind by 2030. While two developers are working on plans to begin fulfilling that target, their projects are unlikely to be operational until 2023 at the earliest.

Refocusing on Fishermen’s Energy

That has advocates refocusing on the Fishermen’s Energy proposal, which would be built in much more shallow state waters than the other two projects, intended to be constructed in federal waters up to 20 miles off the coast.

“It’s a ready-to-go project,’’ said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic), the sponsor of the bill, when asked why he is pushing to revive the measure. “It’s a good effort to diversify our energy portfolio.’’

“We have a fully permitted, ready-to-build project,’’ agreed Paul Gallagher, chief operating officer of Fishermen’s Energy. The $210 million project will be slightly smaller than previous versions submitted to the state Board of Public Utilities, consisting of four, six-megawatt turbines, Gallagher said.

Previously, the BPU rejected the project as too costly to ratepayers, who will help pay for the facility through a subsidy on their electric bills. The Division of Rate Counsel disputed that assessment the last time the project came before the board, but that was when Fishermen’s had a federal grant of roughly $47 million.

The project also is backed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who is sponsoring it in the Senate and trying to include it as part of a comprehensive clean-energy package that props up nuclear power plants and ramps up renewable energy goals in New Jersey.

Stopgap measure

It is likely also supported by the governor’s office as a stopgap measure to have some offshore wind operational before he has to run for a second term. Some clean-energy advocates also back the proposal.

“I’m sure we’ll have his endorsement,’’ Mazzeo said of the governor. “I would think he’d be all in on this.’’

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and a big proponent of offshore wind, endorsed the plan. “The Murphy administration is working to jump start offshore wind, and projects that meet the net economic benefits test should get a green light,’’ he said, referring to the Rate Counsel’s endorsement of the project the last time it came up.

The state would benefit from approving the pilot project, Gallagher said. “Most importantly, the state government will have an opportunity to monitor and develop a project that proves offshore wind works,’’ he said.

Some skeptics

Some environmentalists are skeptical, worried the pilot, with no economy of scale, may come in at too high a price for the state to pursue bigger and more expensive offshore wind farms.

“We need to really concentrate on getting the 1,100 megawatts built and putting the 3,500 megawatt goal in place,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
“Based on our analysis, it (the Fishermen’s Energy proposal) is a pretty expensive project.’’

Meanwhile, the fate of the other parts of the comprehensive clean-energy package — the nuclear bill and a companion clean-energy proposal — appear to still have problems getting wide backing. The two bills were expected to come up in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, but are not among legislation listed on its agenda, at least not yet.