Despite unresolved disagreements with New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities, the Cape May-based Fishermen’s Energy broke ground in Atlantic City Tuesday, digging into Tennessee Avenue by the Boardwalk to make way for underground lines that may one day send electricity from five offshore wind turbines to an inland substation.
Fishermen’s wants to construct the turbines 2.8 miles offshore. The company has obtained the needed building permits, but in April, the BPU rejected its application for financial support supplied under 2010’s Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, signed by Gov. Chris Christie.
The agency argued the project’s power would be significantly more expensive than electricity from existing sources, putting an unacceptable burden on consumers. Fishermen’s has filed multiple appeals with the Superior Court of New Jersey, and the case is ongoing.
Paul Gallagher, Fishermen’s chief operating officer, said Tuesday that the BPU “misread the record” in its initial finding.
“We’re confident that the appellate division will send it back to them again and this will eventually be resolved,” Gallagher said.
Leland Moore, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General, which is representing the BPU in the matter, declined to comment, citing the litigation’s active status.
Despite this background, Fishermen’s decided to move ahead with construction this week, in large part to secure a federal tax credit for renewable energy projects recently passed into law by Congress and applying to work started in 2014.
Gallagher said the wind farm project will create at least 350 construction jobs and 20-25 permanent jobs, an economic rationale cited by others at the groundbreaking.
“It’s an added diversification for Atlantic City, as far as making it a non-gaming town,” said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic. “This means jobs.”
“It’s one of those hundred lanes of traffic that’s going to grow the city,” said Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian.
On Tuesday, work was being done by the Hackensack-based J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc. and Northstar Marine Inc., based in Clermont.
Supporters also say the project will reduce New Jersey’s carbon footprint. On Wednesday, the Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center, an activist group supportive of renewable energy, released a report claiming the country could obtain 30 percent of its power from wind by 2030.
“It’s not just rhetoric to say that offshore wind can power New Jersey,” said Doug O’Malley, the group’s director, adding that in 15 years, wind power could satiate a “huge percentage of the residential market and replace nine fossil fuel power plants in the state.”
Despite Christie’s signing of the Development Act, O’Malley linked the BPU’s rejection of the project to the governor’s national ambitions.
“The delay for the last four years has a political bent to it,” O’Malley said. “The Christie administration’s delaying offshore wind is hurting New Jersey’s environment and economy.”
A spokesman for Christie declined to comment Tuesday.
Guardian said Tuesday at the groundbreaking that he hoped the BPU would reverse its decision, but declined to speculate on the reasons behind its stance.
“I never take the political side,” Guardian said. “I use common sense and I figure out whether it’s going to be good for my city or not. This is good for my city, this is good for the children and grandkids. This is just a good project.”