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Senate Environmental Panel advances wind energy bills

Legislation that would force the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to stop blocking a wind energy project off the coast of Atlantic City has advanced through the State Senate Environmental Panel this week.

The Senate is considering two pieces of legislation. The first, sponsored by Senators Bob Smith (D-17 of Piscataway) and Jim Whelan (D-2 of Atlantic City) would require the BPU to approve a qualified wind energy project and remove requirements that force those attempting to construct the project to submit a cost-benefit analysis.

The second, sponsored by Smith and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-3 of West Deptford), will urge the BPU to implement two laws – the “Offshore Wind Economic Development Act” (OWEDA) and the “Electric Discount and Energy Competition Act.”

These would direct the BPU to develop an offshore wind renewable energy certificate program require a percentage of the electricity sold in New Jersey to be from wind energy.

“Offshore wind energy offers New Jersey enormous economic and environmental benefits,” Sweeney said in a written statement. “It will create jobs in a growing sector of the economy and will help reduce our reliance on the fossil fuels that pollute the environment and impact the health of our residents. We need to move into the forefront of new energy technologies and take advantage of the opportunities they provide.”

In the past three years, the BPU has rejected a proposed 25-megawatt wind energy project, known as the Fisherman’s Energy Project, multiple times.

It was denied in 2013 because the Board said it was not a financially stable and in May 2014 the BPU alleged the energy price of $263 per megawatt hour was too high and denied the proposal again.

New Jersey’s Appellate Court ruled in August 2014 that the BPU had to revisit the proposal, but it was denied a third time in November 2014.

That more recent rejection claimed that electric ratepayers would be on the hook for $19 million if the project fails.

With strong support from South Jersey’s elected officials and from local environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, the $188 million Fisherman’s Energy Project plans to place five wind turbines of the coast of Atlantic City. It is expected to bring approximately 500 jobs to the area.