Analysts: Murphy’s Ambitious New Goal for Offshore Wind Looks Achievable

Jon Hurdle | November 20, 2019 | Energy & Environment
With former Vice President Al Gore on hand, governor outlines plan to significantly raise target for offshore-wind energy generation
Credit: Edwin J. Torres/ Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy announced the plan at the Liberty Science Center with First Lady Tammy Murphy and former Vice President Al Gore looking on.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s ambitious new plan to more than double the amount of wind energy generated off the New Jersey Shore in the next 15 years looks achievable, given clear interest from the wind industry, strong demand from the huge Northeast market, and a state administration that is serious about hitting its clean-energy goals, observers said.

Murphy’s plan, unveiled Tuesday in Jersey City, would increase the amount of offshore wind energy to 7,500 megawatts — enough to meet half the state’s electricity needs — by 2035, up from the previous target of 3,500 MW by 2030.

The governor was joined at the event by former Vice President Al Gore, who praised the initiative as a sign that the world has the capacity to combat climate change even amid gathering signs of climate disruption.

The veteran climate campaigner said the cost of electricity from renewable sources is now lower than from fossil fuels in two-thirds of countries, and said many new jobs are being generated in the clean-fuel industry.

And in a swipe at President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the world-wide treaty to curb carbon emissions — the Paris Climate Accord — Gore said voters in 2020 have the power to install another president who would reverse that decision.

“If anybody doubts that we as human beings have the ability to solve this crisis, just remember that political will is itself a renewable resource,” he said.

What former Vice President Al Gore had to say

For his part, Murphy said the new wind farms would attract investment, create thousands of jobs and boost the state’s progress toward meeting its goal of 100% clean-energy use by 2050. He seized the occasion at the Liberty Science Center to sign an executive order formalizing the new goal.

Jubilant environmentalists

The plan was hailed as a major environmental and economic step forward, not only by jubilant environmental groups that attended the event but also by the American Wind Energy Association — a trade group for the industry — and by the commissioner of New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities, Joseph Fiordaliso.

“It will be achievable, there’s no question about it,” Fiordaliso said in an interview after the announcement. “We’re going to have 3,500 megawatts by 2030 and probably have more by then. So the 2035 timetable is achievable, and one that we are working toward, and one that we will accomplish.”

He said there is demonstrated interest from the offshore wind industry, which competed for New Jersey’s initial solicitation to develop 1,100 MW, a contest that was won in June by Ørsted, which agreed to build a $1.6-billion wind farm about 15 miles off Atlantic City.

Fiordaliso predicted that the new capacity would be installed without harming the interests of the shipping or fishing industries.  “We’re certainly not going to put anyone in harm’s way or take anyone’s livelihood away,” he said.

He acknowledged that ratepayers’ bills would initially rise to reflect the multibillion-dollar wind-farm investment, but that costs will later decline as more power is generated. He said solar installations now cost about half what they did a decade ago, and he predicted that offshore wind power will eventually go the same way.

Industry interest readily apparent

Andrew Gohn, eastern region director for state affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, said there’s no reason why Murphy’s new goal should not be achieved given the interest expressed by several wind operators in the first 1,100 MW, and strong demand from the populous New Jersey market.

One sign of the industry’s demand is the “hundreds of millions” of dollars that it has deposited with the federal government in payment for areas of federal waters that will yield wind energy when they are leased, he said.

“That reflects that industry is taking this opportunity on America’s East Coast very seriously and putting real money into those development pathways,” he said. “The industry commitment couldn’t be more serious.”

He said the development of the European offshore wind industry indicates that a supply chain can be set up in New Jersey to meet the generation goal within 15 years.

Gohn called Murphy’s plan “a very significant commitment” — the second-largest by a state behind New York, which aims to generate 9,000 MW.

“There is a significant resource out there to be captured, and they certainly seem interested in being the leader,” he said. “This has set the bar for other states to step up and increase their offshore wind commitments.”

Seeking a piece of the action

Some of the world’s biggest wind developers want a piece of the offshore New Jersey market because construction is relatively easy in the state’s shallow waters, and because the power market between New York and Philadelphia is so big, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Tittel welcomed Murphy’s initiative as “a great step in the right direction” but urged the governor to develop even more of the region’s wind resources, which have been estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as 20,000 MW between the waters of New Jersey and New York.

The BOEM said in a statement that it “continues to work with both states and other stakeholders regarding potential offshore wind development that appear most suitable for commercial wind-energy activities, while presenting the fewest apparent environmental and user conflicts.” The agency said it has already leased two areas off New Jersey that have the capacity to generate 4,000 MW.

In his speech, Murphy said he expects the federal agency next year to open up 700,000 acres of ocean off New Jersey for wind development, adding to 520,000 acres that are already leased.

Murphy acknowledged that, with the new energy goals, “we are putting ourselves on a steeper curve — but I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t totally confident in our ability to crest this hill.”

Building transportation infrastructure

Building electrical capacity will help meet clean-energy goals and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, which accounts for about half the state’s emissions, he said. “We must build the electrification infrastructure necessary to support more electric vehicles.”

Interest in offshore wind development is also evident in the 460 businesses that have joined the New Jersey Offshore Wind Supply Chain Registry, a vehicle for investors and New Jersey-based companies, since it was set up by the state in April, Murphy said.

He spoke after First Lady Tammy Murphy said the effects of climate change have only recently been recognized by many people as a present reality, after being seen as a distant phenomenon represented by polar bears stranded on melting ice floes.

But now, she said, climate effects like vanishing shorelines and algal blooms in New Jersey’s lakes have made more people understand that they are directly affected.

“The truth is that the reality of climate change is going to transform our lives,” she said.