TRENTON – New Jersey utility regulators dealt a setback Friday to a proposed wind farm off the beaches of Atlantic City, saying they were not satisfied that the project’s economic benefits would outweigh the added cost of wind energy.
The Board of Public Utilities voted unanimously to accept a staff finding that the project’s costs would not be offset by environmental benefits along with added jobs and investment in the region.
“Projects need to show additional jobs to offset the added cost” of wind energy, BPU chairman Robert Hanna said.
The Fishermen’s Energy Atlantic City wind farm, the first offshore energy project to be considered by the BPU, would comprise five wind turbines positioned nearly three miles off Atlantic City. It would generate 25 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 20,000 customers.
The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, which represents ratepayers in the setting of electricity rates, initially opposed the project as too costly. But division director Stefanie A. Brand said that her office had negotiated reductions in the wind farm’s projected rates and that the reduced costs, along with its environmental benefits and assurances by the developers of the project’s viability, were grounds for signing off on the project.
It was that recommendation that the BPU rejected Friday.
Hanna emphasized that the decision was not final and that Fishermen’s could request additional hearings and supplement the record before the BPU make a decision.
The project has received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. Its last, and apparently most difficult, hurdle is the BPU review.
A spokeswoman for Fishermen’s, Rhonda Jackson, did not return a phone call for comment.
Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, criticized the decision, saying that on balance, the project looked as though it would provide both environmental and economic benefits and that the Division of Rate Counsel had done a good job in negotiating the costs down.
But now, even if the project were approved, it might be too late to qualify for $100 million in clean-energy tax breaks that expire Dec. 30, Tittel said.
“The BPU is still fishing on Fishermen’s Energy,” Tittel said in a statement. “We are troubled with how the BPU is handling the project, not the project itself.”
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