Fishermen’s Energy may finally learn if its proposal to build an offshore wind farm three miles from Atlantic City will move forward this week.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is scheduled to act on the proposal at its monthly meeting on Friday, three months after a state appeals court ruled the agency should reconsider the project originally rejected by the commissioners.
The vote this week may lend more credence to how much the Christie administration is committed to developing offshore wind farms — a priority identified in the state’s Energy Master Plan. By 2020, the plan proposes to develop 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity in New Jersey. No projects have yet to be built and the target is not likely to be met, according to clean-energy advocates.
The Fishermen’s Energy proposal aims to build a 25-megawatt wind farm off Atlantic City as part of a more ambitious project to demonstrate the benefits of producing electricity from cleaner sources of energy. If approved, the project would build more offshore wind turbines further from the coast.
The plan was rejected by the BPU this past March, saying it would be too costly to ratepayers, who ultimately would pay a big portion of the cost of the project.
The developer appealed the BPU’s decision, arguing that an up to $47 million federal grant would substantially reduce costs to utility customers, a position with which the state Division of Rate Counsel agreed. Rate Counsel initially opposed the $188 million project as too costly.
The state appeals court remanded the case to the BPU after the federal grant was awarded to Fishermen’s Energy, saying the agency failed to consider how the money from the U.S. Department of Energy would lower costs to ratepayers.
The project is the first offshore wind proposal to be taken up by the agency and clean-energy advocates view its failure to move forward as a sign of the Christie’s administration’s lack of commitment to offshore wind. It has been four years since a law was enacted to promote offshore wind, but no project has yet to be approved.
“This is a big test for Rick Mroz (the new BPU president) to see if he’s really independent,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, and a frequent critic of the Christie administration. “Given the court order and the federal money coming in, there is no reason to say no.”
Part of the frustration of clean-energy advocates is that more than four years after the offshore wind law was enacted, the BPU has yet to adopt rules that would promote offshore wind by awarding developers subsidies from utility customers to make their projects financially viable.
Fishermen’s Energy is the first project to come before the BPU. The federal government is expected to offer leases off the Jersey coast soon to build wind farms. Many developers have expressed an interest in building off the Jersey coast –primarily because of its relatively shallow coastal shelf and abundant wind resources.
In a statement, Chris Wissemann, chief executive officer of Fishermen’s Energy, said the project would create more than 250 direct construction jobs and about 500 total jobs and more than $150 million in direct economic benefits to the state.
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