Former BPU President Challenges NJ to Bring Affordable Wind Power to Customers Here

Hearings underway on Murphy administration’s strategic plan for development of offshore wind sector
Credit: (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
File photo: Wind turbines in the water off Block Island, R.I.

The state needs to plan how it will bring the power from offshore wind farms to the customers who will use it, but at affordable prices, according to a former president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

Jeanne Fox urged her former agency this week to begin determining how its goal of providing 3 million New Jerseyans with wind power will fit into the regional power grid and whether it makes sense to pursue building an offshore wind transmission backbone system.

To date, the only approved offshore wind farm is developing its own connections on shore with the PJM Interconnection power grid, hooking up with existing transmission facilities at former power plants — the Oyster Creek nuclear unit and the B.L. England former coal power plant in Cape May.

Fox, speaking at a hearing on the Murphy administration’s draft offshore wind strategic plan, questioned whether the state should leave it up to offshore wind developers to pursue interconnection options.

“Developers have nothing to lose in pursuing expensive connections into the PJM grid,’’ she said. “And that’s not good for ratepayers. We are going to be literally wasting ratepayers’ money in the future.’’

Where and how power from the offshore wind farms is delivered to customers is one of the major unresolved questions in how New Jersey and other states along the Eastern Seaboard advance aggressive plans to promote offshore wind.

‘21st century version of railroads’

“Offshore wind interconnections are the third rail of the offshore wind industry,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “This is the 21st century version of railroads: How do we build a green energy infrastructure?’’

Ørsted, emerging as the sector’s biggest player on the eastern coast with New Jersey’s initial project and plans for others, has often cited its issues bringing an offshore wind farm on line in Germany because of problems a transmission company had in completing construction of an interconnection.

But others, like Fox, argue there are not nearly enough interconnections on shore to accommodate the state’s goals of 11,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2050. An offshore wind transmission company, Anbaric Development Partners, LLC asked the federal government last year to gauge the interest in building a 185-mile submarine line mostly off the Jersey coast.

“It’s sort of like the COVID-19 issue,” O’ Malley said. “It hasn’t been the focus of the BPU, nor the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).’’

Others, not wedded to either approach, want the state and federal government to begin addressing what is the cheapest way to bring offshore wind power to customers — and perhaps, more importantly, with the least impact on environmentally sensitive areas along the coast.

“The BPU should do a study — and relatively quick,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He also argued BOEM, which oversees the offshore wind leasing program, should itself study the issue, particularly relating to whether an offshore backbone transmission system would be more reliable.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the BPU kicks off the process of awarding a second solicitation to build offshore wind farms. The state is seeking to triple the capacity of offshore wind farms in this solicitation.