State regulators to consider turbine projects along coast
The prospect of giant off-shore windmills generating power along the Jersey coast moved closer to reality yesterday when at least three developers asked state regulators for the right to build a large-scale wind farm about 16 miles out in the ocean.
The proposals, which envision the construction of up to 116 wind turbines rising hundreds of feet above the water, would help the Corzine administration reach ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases, while shifting electricity production to cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and solar power.
It is a big bet. With project costs running upwards of $1 billion, the projects need to overcome numerous environmental and economic hurdles at a time when the commercial feasibility of wind power remains a question, industry analysts said. There are no off-shore wind farms operating in the United States, and several projects, including one off Jones Beach in Long Island, have been canceled because of high costs.
The proposals, submitted yesterday to the state Board of Public Utilities, involve wind farms of up to 350 megawatts, including one proposed by a partnership consisting of Newark-based Public Service Enterprise Group and Winergy Power Holdings. One megawatt is enough to supply about 800 homes.
The PSEG/Winergy project calls for construction of 96 wind turbines arranged in a rectangular grid off the coast of Cape May and Atlantic counties. Located 16 miles off shore, the turbines would be virtually invisible from land, even though they would rise between 450 and 500 feet above the water, said Paul Rosengren, a spokesman for PSEG Renewable Generation.
PSEG Renwewable is a subsidiary of PSEG Global, which has operated wind power plants in Chile. Winergy, based in New York, was formed to explore opportunities for offshore wind development on the Eastern Seaboard.
Another group, Blue Water Wind NJ Energy, is proposing a 348-megawatt wind farm, consisting of 116 turbines southeast of Atlantic City. Its closest turbine would be located 15.6 miles from shore, said James Lanard, head of strategic planning.
Blue Water, which also is planing to build a wind farm off Delaware, has hired experts who have been involved in building 94 percent of the offshore wind farms currently operating overseas, Lanard said.
Both the PSEG and Blue Water projects envision going operational in 2012, although Blue Water’s project would be built in two phases. The cost of the projects are expected to run between $1 billion and $1.4 billion, according to officials familiar with the plans.
PSEG, which owns the state’s largest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas, is also the state’s biggest power supplier, with half of its electricity coming from nuclear power plants in South Jersey.
The other bid submitted yesterday came from Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey, a consortium representing companies operating fishing vessels and owners of waterfront docks in South Jersey. Its proposal envisions 66 turbines, built in two phases, located off Atlantic City. The group declined to say how far offshore the turbines would be located.
The state BPU declined to talk about the proposals, saying they would not discuss them until each of the bids was opened an evaluated. At the time the agency sought the bids last fall, it noted the submissions would be only the beginning of the process, and reserved the right to make no award.
That would not surprise analysts, who say offshore wind projects are a risky venture.
“There’s always the issue of siting, even if it is offshore,” said Paul Patterson, an analyst with Glenrock Associates. “Then there’s the cost. It’s not cheap. The cost of offshore wind has gotten more expensive.”
The projects also are likely to be scrutinized by environmental groups active in coastal issues. Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action said her organization is not opposed to the concept of offshore wind projects, but argued the state needs to defer action on specific projects until it determines what areas are appropriate for such projects and what the rules and regulations should be.
Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society agreed. “It strikes me that politics is driving this rather than rational energy policy,” he said.
Others, however, were more positive. Jeff Tittel, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Sierra Club, called wind power the “cleanest and cheapest” renewable energy source out there. “Wind probably has the best potential for non-polluting generation at the lowest price,” he said.
By Tom Johnson
4 February 2008
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