Offshore wind nears halfway mark in NJ

State appears to have projects lined up to start hitting its green-power goals
Credit: (apn Photo/Ingo Wagner, Pool)
File photo: Offshore wind turbines

Last month, the Murphy administration scrapped a scheduled formal request for companies to bid on building more wind farms off the Jersey coast — a sign viewed by some as proof the state is well on its way to building 7,500 megawatts of wind capacity by 2035.

By virtue of awarding two new projects totaling 2,658 MW of offshore wind capacity at the end of June, the state, on paper, is more than halfway to reaching that ambitious target when the first 1,100 MW of capacity awarded in 2019 is included.

More importantly, the growth could enhance New Jersey’s overall goal of becoming a hub for the emerging offshore wind sector, an industry that could generate billions of dollars in economic impact and create thousands of jobs for years to come, according to officials.

What remained of Hurricane Ida flooded wide areas of north Jersey, and more than a half-dozen tornadoes leveled homes in South Jersey. That storm, and others this summer, are believed by many to be a reflection of the changing climate. And that has renewed questions of whether the state is doing enough to transition to 100% clean energy by mid-century.

Asked Thursday whether the state needs to accelerate its clean-energy goals, Gov. Phil Murphy, while inspecting a portion of Mullica Hill in Harrison Township devastated by a tornado, quickly answered, “Unequivocally, yes.’’ He did not elaborate.

“I think he’s spot on,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, a group that called for meeting the state’s 100% clean-energy goals by 2035 in a report issued last month. “This is an opportunity for our elected officials to meet the challenge.

‘Another wake-up call’

“This storm is another wake-up call,’’ Potosnak said, citing the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which warned that some of the worst impacts of climate change are already inevitable — higher temperatures, more intense storms and rising sea levels. “Climate change is accelerating.’’

By some measures, the offshore industry is thriving. The 2021 edition of the Offshore Wind Market Report, prepared by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, found that the pipeline for offshore wind-energy projects grew to 35,324 MW, a 24% increase over the previous year.

Most of the growth in the U.S. pipeline occurred with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Interior, creating five new wind-energy areas in the New York Bight that total 9,800 MW of capacity.

Urging a five-year schedule 

Other clean-energy advocates agree the state should look to expand its offshore wind goals, but focus on building out its solicitation schedule in the next five years. New Jersey has held two solicitations so far, the latest raising expected wind capacity to 3,758 MW when those projects are expected to come online.

The first project by Ørsted’s Ocean Wind 1,100-MW facility is supposed to be operational by the end of 2024 or early 2025. The latest projects include Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, a 1,510-MW wind farm, a joint venture of EDF Renewables and Shell New Energies LLC; and a second Ocean Wind project, a 1,148-MW facility by Ørsted.

“The most important ones are the building over the next five years,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. Building those projects will help create a supply chain for future projects, he said. “We are going to see offshore wind expand in the 2030s.”

Earlier this summer, the state Board of Public Utilities adopted a revised solicitation schedule, eliminating a scheduled solicitation with the award of a project in the first quarter of 2029. That leaves the agency with three more solicitations in 2023, 2025 and 2027.

Aggressive approach

The BPU plans to continue to evaluate each solicitation as it relates to the evolving market. A number of factors could influence the timing and how much capacity will be awarded in future solicitations, according to the agency. Those include transmission solutions, status of lease areas, permitting, establishment of a supply chain, workforce training and cost trends.

To date, there has not been widespread opposition to the state’s aggressive approach to offshore wind, but some segments have expressed concerns, including its impact on the state’s lucrative fishing industry and its costs.

“What we’ve seen in the last three years, the BPU is expanding our goals,’’ O’Malley said. In the latest solicitation, its original target was 1,200 MW but was expanded to 2,400 MW, which was eventually exceeded in the award.

Kris Ohleth, executive director for the Special Initiative for Offshore Wind, however, thinks the drawn-out solicitation schedule works to New Jersey’s advantage. “New Jersey has a process that’s a model,’’ she said. “In a way, it is best to have a measured approach.’’

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