The handful of developers proposing wind farm projects off the state’s coast are adjusting their game plans after recent encouraging news from state and federal officials.
Earlier this month, federal officials identified four priority areas for wind projects off the Eastern Seaboard that will be fast-tracked for environmental reviews. One of the areas is off the Jersey Shore from Avalon to near Barnegat Bay, covering about 550 square miles.
That announcement was followed Feb. 10 when the state Board of Public Utilities unveiled guidelines for new financial incentives for wind projects.
One developer responded by pitching small projects to be quickly completed, while another hopes to win state authorization for a big, exclusive proposal.
Fishermen’s Energy, a coalition of fishermen seeking to supply alternative energy, applied for a demonstration scale project with six turbines and up to 25 megawatts of power capacity, which could power about 10,000 homes.
“This is a project we could build next year,” said Daniel Cohen, president of Fishermen’s Energy, in an interview Thursday. “We could be first in the country.”
Fishermen’s is promoting its project as one that could beat a Massachussetts project to completion because it is in state waters and won’t need a federal lease.
That would make it the first successful offshore wind project in the country.
The Fishermen’s turbines would be only a few miles off Atlantic City, and Cohen said the site would build confidence among financiers and insurers for other projects.
Garden State Offshore Energy, a wind development coalition that includes PSEG, has much bigger plans.
The coalition said this week that it hopes to increase its existing 350 megawatt proposal to as many as 1,000 megawatts.
Garden State Vice President Robert Gibbs said more jobs could be created if the state approves a single developer to build wind farms, because the business from a large project could entice a turbine or parts company to open a manufacturing plant in the state.
“We think that a larger project can offer benefits and savings over three smaller projects,” Gibbs said on Thursday.
That concerns OffshoreMW, a company planning to put turbines 14 miles off the coast of Brigantine, which is critical of the idea of a single wind power provider. OffshoreMW’s primary investor is the Blackstone Group, a publicly traded finance company.
OffshoreMW is the sister company of a German wind developer that is currently building a 288-megawatt offshore wind project in Europe.
“This notion that there’s only going to be one developer offshore in New Jersey is bad policy,” said Erich Stephens, vice president of OffshoreMW. “If we’re serious about the industry, no manufacturer is going to set up a plant to serve just one developer.”
Stephens said pinning the state’s hopes for wind on one developer would be risky for the state.
“If that one developer fails, the whole policy falls on its face,” Stephens said.
In addition to OffshoreMW and Garden State, NRG Bluewater Wind, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, has proposed a 348-megawatt wind farm 16 miles off the South Jersey coast.
The state policy for encouraging offshore wind power follows in the footsteps of a state market for solar energy that rewards solar projects with credits that power companies are required to earn or buy.
Board of Public Utilities counsel Ken Sheehan said the state law authorizing a market to support offshore wind projects specifies it should include wind projects with a total of more than 1,100 megawatts of power, and said that is not a cap.
“The board is going to stand by the ‘at least’ part,” Sheehan said. “The 1,100 is not a limit.”
Sheehan said the market will be funded by ratepayers in the state, but said it’s not certain yet how the money will be awarded to wind energy developers.
The next step for the board is to evaluate the proposals that the wind developers are preparing.
No timetable has been set for that yet.
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