The state Board of Public Utilities is ready to commit up to $1.9 million now and $19 million over time to entice private companies to study and prepare grant applications for a wind turbine project off the Jersey coast. Trouble is, the state hasn’t decided whether to pursue the project. So spending the money now from the BPU’s Clean Energy Funding is premature. And why should state officials believe they would get an objective assessment of the prospects for wind power from companies with a stake in the outcome?
The BPU’s solicitation of proposals for funding Wednesday follows the recommendation of a blue-ribbon panel to facilitate a test project of wind power as part of the Corzine administration’s commitment to encourage clean, renewable energy. The project would likely include 70 turbines and be up to 20 miles off the coast in an area running from Seaside Park to Stone Harbor. It would produce enough power for 125,000 homes.
But the environmental impact and economic questions about offshore wind farms have not been answered. The impact on fishing, wildlife and shipping is important to the state. So is the cost of locating, maintaining and operating such a project. Until it has those answers, the state is “putting the cart before the horse,” as Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society said after learning of the BPU’s solicitation.
At least one company, Bluewater Wind of Hoboken, expects to submit a proposal. “This was very exciting news,” said spokesman James S. Lanard. The New Jersey project could produce 350 megawatts and cost the company more than $1 billion, Lanard said. Bluewater Wind also has proposed a 450-megawatt wind farm off the Delaware coast.
BPU President Jeanne M. Fox tried to assure skeptics that “nothing would go forward in the ocean” until state officials are confident the environment would be protected. But it would be too easy for the companies doing the studies to minimize the environmental and economic downsides to win the contract, knowing that the BPU will pay the remainder of the $19 million based on electricity produced over five years.
The state would be far better off with studies of offshore wind farms from truly independent sources. The BPU could get that for far less than $1.9 million.
8 October 2007
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