‘Once-in-a-Generation’ Chance to Make New Jersey Capital of Offshore Wind?

Tom Johnson | November 30, 2018 | Energy & Environment
Big tax credits being readied for developers, but state put on alert that huge investments necessary to enable ports to handle massive turbines, other equipment

Credit: U.S. DOE
Installation of an offshore wind turbine
Is New Jersey a potential center of the offshore wind sector? Why not ask top officials of the Murphy administration?

“If someone is going to be the capital of offshore wind, we sure want it to be New Jersey,’’ said Tim Sullivan, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority at an event yesterday touting offshore wind’s economic benefits to the state at Princeton University.

The Murphy administration is banking on making it happen. It has adopted the most aggressive offshore wind goals in the nation, hoping to develop 3,500 megawatts of wind capacity off the Jersey coast by 2030, a target whose costs will be mostly footed by utility customers.

The state also is developing a new offshore-wind tax credit through the EDA, in a program geared to handing out up to $100 million in tax credits to offshore wind developers who each guarantee creating 300 new full-time jobs.

With ample wind resources off the Jersey coast, at least four developers are expected to bid to build grid-scale offshore wind farms by the end of the year in a solicitation being offered by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities for up to 1,100 MW of capacity. It will be followed by additional solicitations of 1,200 MW in 2020 and 2022.

Ambitious targets

The ambitious targets have spurred widespread interest among offshore wind developers; they view it as a way of creating a steady pipeline of projects that will eventually result in a reliable supply chain to make the industry grow and in a more cost-effective way for the people who will pay for the power.

“Offshore wind presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for new industry development in the state,’’ Sullivan told advocates, industry experts and others at the event, which was sponsored by the Business Network of Offshore Wind.

For the most part, participants in the day-long event shied away from talking about the costs of fulfilling the state’s goals. Offshore wind is much more expensive than wind produced on land in states like Texas, Iowa, and other places in the Midwest. Ratepayers will subsidize the offshore wind farms at a time when costs are rising to make the power grid more resilient, and more reliant on more expensive clean-energy technologies, such as solar.

But New Jersey Board of Public Utilities president Joseph Fiordaliso argued that, beyond the obvious clean-energy benefits, the scale of the solicitation is designed to attract the offshore wind supply chain to New Jersey and create new jobs and economic activity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Those jobs will include engineers and consultants, but also many subcontractors hired by developers to do technical work on the offshore wind farms, but many others, too — welders, tug boat operators, and helicopter pilots to ferry technicians out to the turbines to work on operation and maintenance.

The ports are key

It also presents opportunities for New Jersey-based suppliers, according to Bill Wall, project director of LS Cable of Fort Lee, which installs underground cable lines delivering power to customers. By hiring state-based suppliers, offshore wind developers will have a better chance of meeting the net economic benefit for the state to approved any offshore wind project, he said.

Much of the economic activity generated by offshore wind will be focused around the ports that will be used to service the wind farms and assemble parts associated with those operations.

Because of the huge scale of the wind farms, the state may need to invest huge dollars in upgrading existing ports to handle the assembly and shipping of turbines and other equipment, panelists said.

Julie Bovey, representing Equinor, a developer seeking to build offshore wind farms off Long Island and Asbury Park, said one port they looked at using for their project needed $350 million in upgrades; another, $100 million.

Others argued there may be a need to do further dredging around areas expected to be “marshalling’’ stations where components would be assembled for the offshore wind farms.