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Fishermen’s to file amended offshore wind project plan

Fishermen’s Energy will file an amended application to New Jersey regulators by 1 June for its proposed 25MW pilot wind farm in state-owned waters off Atlantic City, spokeswoman Rhonda Jackson tells Recharge.

The move comes after two consulting groups earlier this year criticized the developer’s initial plan, finding it had not shown a “net benefit” to New Jersey.

The developer is seeking a favorable decision from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) that would provide ratepayer support for a five-turbine project whose cost could exceed $200m. It hopes to be the first US offshore wind farm.

That support would come in the form of Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificates, or ORECs. In August, Governor Chris Christie signed a law creating an OREC programme, which would sustain an initial 1.1GW of offshore wind energy, and mandating that a percentage of power sold in the state be produced from turbines located off its coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

Fishermen’s is the first project to seek BPU qualification. The consultants’ reports done for the state were redacted where it gives the amount that Fishermen’s is seeking for ratepayer support per OREC. However, they say the proposed amount is too high and not in ratepayers’ best interest.

The consultants also say that the cost of the project and the electricity it would generate are excessive compared with wind farms of similar size elsewhere. As well, they raised questions about the turbine vendor and technology choices – the 5MW XE/DD115 direct-drive unit manufactured by XEMC-Darwind – and had doubts over giving the Chinese vendor a 70% project stake.

BPU agreed to provide Fishermen’s more time to address concerns raised by the consultants. Once its five commissioners receive the amended application, state law requires them to review it within 180 days, says spokesman Greg Reinert.

While Fishermen’s disputes certain methodology and conclusions in the reports, Jackson says it has been working to refine and validate the project business model. She does not expect that the developer will modify the basic parameters for the project, which she believes will ultimately be seen as beneficial for New Jersey.

She argues that Fishermen’s initial proposal should be taken within the context that the project is a trailblazer for an emerging US industry. As a result, both the developer and BPU are feeling their way forward as part of a learning curve.

At BPU, Reinert says like any new process, the OREC programme is requiring time to be put in place. He declines to estimate when the system will be ready.

Jackson praises New Jersey officials for being supportive of entrepreneurs such as Fishermen’s that are working to make the state a leader in offshore wind energy. The developer is a consortium formed by the principals of several East Coast fishing companies.

Meanwhile, Fishermen’s expects the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to approve a construction permit for the project, “hopefully shortly,” Jackson says. Congress has designated USACE as the permitting authority for structures such as wind turbines that could impede navigation in state-owned waters, which extend three miles out from shore along the East Coast.

Fishermen’s has all permits it needs from New Jersey to get going. “We’re ready to get something in the water,” Jackson says.