TRENTON – State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said today that Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions are holding up a wind energy project his administration once championed.
“Something happened. I think the governor’s ambitions changed, and I know the Koch brothers don’t like clean energy,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said.
Sweeney, who is considered a likely 2017 Democratic candidate for governor, made the remarks shortly before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee voted 4-1 to approve a bill (S2711) that would force the Board of Public Utilities to approve a proposal for a wind farm off the coast of Atlantic City that it has rejected twice.
The Koch brothers Sweeney referred to are energy magnates David and Charles Koch, who are major funders of Republican candidates and of independent expenditures in their favor.
Sweeney also complained that the BPU has also been slow to issue regulations on wind energy, even though the Christie signed a 2010 law intended to jump start the industry in New Jersey.
“In March of 2011 they were supposed to publish the regulations. And the fact that they haven’t I think is a clear statement from the administration that they’re opposed to wind energy at the cost of the economy of the State of New Jersey,” Sweeney said. “We would have captured 1,000 manufacturing jobs in this industry. We were so far in front of the states up and down the east coast.”
Sweeney and other officials are hopeful that companies will soon start manufacturing wind turbines at the Port of Paulsboro, which is in Sweeney’s district.
A spokesman for Christie did not respond to an email seeking comment.
At issue is the proposed 25-megawatt Fishermen’s Energy wind project, which would consist of turbines about three miles off the coast of the resort.
In rejecting the project most recently in November, the BPU – whose members are nominated by Christie and approved by the state Senate – said it “has not demonstrated financial integrity.”
Environmentalists and Democrats said the BPU was making excuses to hold the program up.
The BPU evaluated the plan with a price of $263 per megawatt hour. But Fishermen’s Energy said that was a much higher figure than it proposed, which was $199.17. It has appealed the decision.
“We submitted a project plan that does meet every element of the statute. It does meet the net benefit test at the price that Fishermen’s submitted,” said Paul Gallagher, COO and general counsel to Fishermen’s Energy. “The BPU has elected to evaluate the project at a different, higher price than we proposed.
The bill the committee approved would change the 2010 law’s language so it would no longer say the BPU “may approve” a project that meets the criteria, to “shall approve.” It would also no longer require the company in this case to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.
That brought an objection from the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.
“It’s taking away that look of how are we impacting the subsidy that ratepayers are going to be providing for a certain type of renewable,” said Sarah Bluhm, vice president of the NJBIA for environment, energy and federal affairs.
But state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) said the point is to get the project started.
“It doesn’t say ‘don’t do the cost benefit analysis for future wind projects,'” said Smith. “This is about a small pilot project so we can evaluate the costs.”
All three Democrats on the committee and one Republican – state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman of Somerset County – voted in favor of the bill. State Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Middlesex) voted against it.
“I find it regrettable that this discussion began on a political basis,” said Thompson. “To me, that has nothing to do with what we’re considering here. Some people may feel that, but I don’t.”
Thompson also criticized the scrapping of the cost benefit analysis.
“If there is a problem with the way the BPU is conducting their cost-benefit analysis then perhaps this is something we should attack,” Thompson said. “But I definitely believe we need to maintain a cost-benefit analysis for anything we do.”
Less controversial was a non-binding resolution (SR112) urging the BPU to “expeditiously adopt regulations required pursuant to the ‘Offshore Wind Economic Development Act,'” which the committee approved 5-0.
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