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Christie enacts law allowing windmills on piers along New Jersey coast, including on Steel Pier in Atlantic City

Piers along the New Jersey shore may soon hum with wind turbines, generating kilowatts of power and possible profits for their owners thanks to a new state law.

Gov. Chris Christie signed a measure Friday that allows the tenants at Steel Pier in Atlantic City to install wind turbines along its length. The Catanoso family, who collectively owns the amusements on the pier, says it intends to set up the first 120-foot windmill by November.

The set of turbines, which would eventually sit alongside Steel Pier’s rollercoasters and Ferris wheel, will be what state Sen. Jim Whelan calls a “de facto pilot program” to see the results of allowing turbines on any piers within 500 feet of the mean water line. Other pier owners, lawmakers say, may soon follow.

“We feel very strongly about this,” said Tony Catanoso, who operates the Steel Pier with his three brothers and business partner, Ed Olwell. “This is a green-energy move for us – and it will become an attraction for people.”

The family, which leases the pier from Trump Entertainment, plans to put up three turbines, with an educational center nearby. The Pier is located in front of Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, jutting out from the Boardwalk at Pennsylvania Avenue.

“People will be standing pretty close to the base of the structures,” he said Tuesday. “You’d get up close to them and learn how they work.”

With three turbines working at full capacity year-round, the windmills will generate 190,000 kilowatt hours a year, he said.

“We cover our electricity bills for the pier,” he added.

Catanoso said he would sell any additional power to Trump Taj Mahal if the company wants it. If not, the energy will return to the grid.

“In our off-season,” he said, “our meter would basically run backwards.”

When the Steel Pier operators brought their proposal to the Department of Environmental Protection 18 months ago, they were told regulations did not allow turbines that close to the shore.

Whelan, D-Atlantic, who sponsored the legislation, set out to change the law – even after the DEP relented this fall and loosened its rules to allow the Pier’s proposal.

“If it’s now the law, it makes it more definite,” Whelan said today, noting that companies have to embark on costly, months-long permitting processes through the Coastal Area Facility Review Act. “You don’t want to find the rules have changed back.”

At one point, the bill would have allowed the turbines only on piers in Atlantic City – a stipulation Whelan said the DEP had also requested. That has now been changed.

“We’re glad they’re opening this up now to sites along the Jersey shore,” said state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

Van Drew said the Morey family, which runs Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, had expressed to him initial interest in a turbine project.

Assemblyman Nelson Albano, also from the 1st district, said the proposal would allow energy independence.

“A lot of people want to get off our dependency on foreign oil,” he said. “These projects create a way for our state to start to do that, and all the while creating jobs.”

Catanoso said he was ready to go to DEP and the city Planning Board for approvals.

“Once we get those, the actual construction won’t take long at all,” he said.