A Cape May company that hopes to build half a dozen energy-generating wind turbines off the coast of Atlantic City has not proven to the state Board of Public Utilities that the project is economically viable.
Fishermen’s Energy must get the BPU’s approval to launch its pilot program, which would begin with five or six wind turbines 2.8 miles offshore. Last week two consulting firms assessing the project deemed that the company has not made a sufficient case that the wind farm will be a job creator and a possible site of environmental tourism. Fishermen’s Energy has filed an extension until October, and “anticipates providing additional information within the next 45 days,” said spokeswoman Rhonda Jackson in an email Monday.
Proponents of the wind farm, including state Sen. James Whelan, have said if the test program went well, the mini-wind farm could grow into an industry with the potential to not only create clean energy but add jobs and help revitalize the Garden State’s marine industries.
Last September, Whelan called wind energy an “industry of the future,” and said New Jersey “should be a leader in matching our struggling regional boat industry with wind energy developers to bring good-paying, clean energy jobs to South Jersey.”
According to Whelan, boat builders, whose businesses have seen a decline with the recession, could “transition … into wind turbine manufacturers,” and retrofit existing operations for a whole new business.
But two consulting firms that work for the BPU – Boston Pacific of Washington D.C. and the Dutch firm OutSmart – said that “net benefits of the project were not demonstrated” and “key underlying assumptions of applicants’ cost-benefit analysis were not adequately substantiated.” Both firms said Fishermen’s Energy did not factor in the possible loss of jobs if customers switch from conventional power plants to hydropower. The firms also agreed the company did not adequately prove there would be a boost in ecotourism as a result of the wind farm, which ultimately could contain hundreds of turbines.
Dan Cohen, CEO of Fishermen’s Energy, said the project will be a job creator over time.
“There are three different types of direct jobs” that would result if wind energy gets a foothold in New Jersey, Cohen said: preliminary jobs building the vessels that would carry equipment and crews to the offshore construction site; permanent jobs operating the turbines; and ultimately, manufacturing jobs. Turbines and components are now manufactured mostly in Asia and Europe.
Cohen said Fishermen’s Energy was founded by fishermen who saw hydropower as inevitable, and wanted to both mitigate the negative affect of offshore farms on the fishing industry and also get in on the ground floor of a new enterprise.
“Assuming the public says we want renewable energy and the only place to get it is through offshore wind, we as businesspeople can bring the skill set and financial resources and try to site (the farms) more logically to reduce the impact” on fishing, he said.
“We want to build a facility in New Jersey, to bring manufacturing to New Jersey, and to create jobs in New Jersey,” Cohen said.
When Whelan touted the plan last September, Chris Babek of Viking Yachts in New Gretna said it was a good idea.
“The fact that they’re going to be sitting turbines off the coast of New Jersey, it just makes sense to build the parts here,” he said.
Last week, he seemed to have taken a step back from that initial optimism.
“Three or four years ago we did look at the potential for making some turbine parts – cells and cone spinners for the hubs. We found that although a lot of the materials are similar and the processes are similar, and the boat builders can certainly build the parts, but it’s a long learning curve. Unfortunately for the U.S., companies in Denmark, Germany and Spain, they have a big head start.”
“I’m not so sure what the real advantage would be,” said Peter Fredericksen of Viking Yachts. “When you manufacture one thing, you can’t just switch gears like that. There would realistically have to be contracts; no one is going to be working building boats unless there’s work there. Where are the contracts going to come from? Where is the training going to come from?”
In addition, Fredericksen said, “New Jersey is not the most business-friendly state. I can just then trying to get giant turbine blades down the parkway.”
Jeff George, captain of AC Cruises, sees a lot of promise in the burgeoning industry.
“I could see Yank Marine down in Tuckahoe being a company that could build some of the support vessels, the tug boats and work boats that move men and machines to the work site,” George said. “Personally for AC Cruises I see the opportunity for the expansion of my business for the purpose of educating folks about this sustainable energy.”
In January Whelan introduced bills that would require the New Jersey Business Action Center to help boat builders convert their operations to serve the renewable energy sector, and direct the state’s Economic Development Authority to offer low-interest loans to cover equipment and other costs. Another bill would provide a sales tax exemption on materials or equipment used in the manufacturing of wind-energy equipment.
“The Boston Pacific report provides guidelines for our response,” wrote Jackson.
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