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Offshore data towers loom  

Envision a half-dozen towers for collecting data miles off the Jersey Shore in areas that could someday have dozens of wind turbines churning out emission-free power.

By year’s end, the U.S. Minerals Management Service hopes to give sea bottom leases to three companies that want to put six meteorological towers off New Jersey, officials said Wednesday.

And the towers could be erected next spring, said Maureen A. Bornholdt, program manager in the mineral services’ Office of Alternative Energy Programs in Herndon, Va.

“I see nothing wrong with it,” said Bob O’Connor, 72, who lives on Ocean Avenue in Belmar. “If it’s going to help people, good. Get it done.”

“I support offshore drilling, offshore windmills” and liquefied natural gas facilities off the Jersey Shore, said O’Connor, who is semiretired. “We’ve got an energy crisis here.”

But Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a Sandy Hook-based coastal conservation group, said the Minerals Management Service is “selecting sites before the environmental-impact assessments are done or any regulatory framework to protect the ocean is in place.”

Bluewater Wind New Jersey Energy LLC is interested in leasing three sites, Winergy Power LLC is interested in two and Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey is interested in one, minerals service officials said during a conference call with reporters.

The companies have proposed putting one meteorological tower in each lease area, Bornholdt said.

A lease area covers 9 square miles of sea floor, and a lease would cost $3 an acre annually.

New Jersey has begun $4.5 million in environmental studies in waters from Seaside Park to Stone Harbor and up to 23 miles off the coast. A draft final report is due in September 2009, according to information on the state Department of Environmental Protection Web site.

“Frankly, we would like to push this as fast as we can,” Minerals Management Service director Randall Luthi said. “The country needs sources of energy,” and needs data to be collected.

“We’ve got some catch-up to do,” he said.

The Minerals Management Service regulates domestic energy production on the outer continental shelf off the U.S., according to its Web site.

The minerals service would issue limited leases under an “interim policy” to allow alternative energy data collection and technology testing on the outer continental shelf, according to a statement on the Web.

The limited leases envisioned under the policy will last for five years and “will not convey any right or priority for commercial development,” the statement says.

The leasing process will involve “thorough environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and related laws” and close consultation with federal, state and local government agencies, the statement says.

Leaseholders will be able to “collect information that will be useful for potential commercial projects in the future under an MMS regulatory program that is in development,” the statement says.

The federal minerals service this month proposed a rule covering offshore alternative energy.

“There’s a lot of government effort going into putting these (wind turbine farm) projects into motion which will be very difficult to say no to if the environmental studies” ever get finished, Dillingham said.

Five companies, including the three seeking interim leases, are competing for as much as $19 million from the state Board of Public Utilities for a potential wind turbine farm off the Jersey Shore.

Two years ago, a blue-ribbon panel recommended that the state facilitate a pilot project that would produce as much as 350 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity.

The meteorological towers would be sited in the state environmental study area for wind turbines.

One of Bluewater Wind’s three proposed lease sites would be for the proposed offshore wind pilot project off New Jersey, said Jim Lanard, director of strategic planning.

It is 18 miles off Atlantic City, according to federal minerals service information on the Web.

The two other proposed lease sites would be studied for “subsequent wind parks that might be developed after the BPU decides they are ready to permit additional wind parks off the Jersey coast,” Lanard said.

The sites are 16 miles off Long Beach Island and 17 miles off Ocean City, according to the minerals service.

Bluewater Wind is proposing towers that would be between 256 feet and 262 feet tall and would collect meteorological and possibly environmental data, Lanard said.

Winergy Power LLC, in association with Garden State Offshore Energy, has proposed leasing areas that, at their closest points, are 15 miles off Atlantic City and 17 miles off Ocean City, according to the minerals service and a Winergy official.

Garden State Offshore Energy is a joint venture between Winergy Power LLC and PSEG Renewable Generation, said Paul Rosengren, a PSEG spokesman.

These towers would be 100 meters tall and would collect meteorological and environmental data, said Chris Wissemann, chief operating officer for Winergy Power.

One hundred meters is 328 feet.

Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey has proposed a tower for collecting meteorological and environmental data that is 8 miles off Ocean City, according to the minerals service and a company official.

“I think it’s a good idea if they do the surveys,” said Peggy O’Connor, 66, wife of Bob O’Connor.

“I think frankly we need to look into other sources of . . . fuel,” and wind power would be one of them, she said.

By Todd B. Bates
Environmental Writer

Asbury Park Press

24 July 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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