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Wind-energy bill / End-run tactic

This past week, a state Senate committee approved a rather curious bill, one asking a regulatory board not to do its job.

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee gave its OK to S2711, a bill that would require the Board of Public Utilities to approve a wind farm that Fishermen’s Energy wants to build three miles off Atlantic City.

The BPU, which regulates the state’s utilities, has three times rejected an application for the project, saying the high cost of electricity from the turbines would be an unacceptable burden for businesses and homeowners.

Despite that, Fishermen’s Energy, a Cape May-based company, broke ground in December on an Atlantic City site it said would be used for underground lines that would one day bring electricity from offshore turbines to the electrical grid.

If approved by the full Senate and Assembly and signed into law, S2711, sponsored by Sens. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, would remove the requirements that a wind-energy pilot program must submit a cost-benefit analysis to the BPU and that the board’s decision should be based in part on that analysis. And it would instruct the BPU to approve any qualified 20- to 25-megawatt project “offshore of a municipality in which casino gaming is authorized.” The Assembly version of the bill is being sponsored by Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic.

In other words, lawmakers want to take BPU oversight out of the question of whether or not Fishermen’s Energy’s five-turbine demonstration project gets built. We think that’s wrong.

We understand the potential environmental benefits of offshore wind power, and we understand this technology will never reach its potential without some initial subsidies.

But the BPU has said that the electricity produced from the wind farm will be among the most expensive in the nation. Fishermen’s Energy disputes that.

Whatever the electricty will eventually cost, somebody, such as the BPU, should be looking out for the folks who have to pay the bills.

And wherever you come down on the offshore wind-energy question, you should be alarmed by this end-run tactic.

It was only a few months ago that environmentalists were complaining that an application to build a natural gas pipeline from Maurice River Township to the B.L. England Generating Station in Upper Township had not been filed properly.

Now, apparently, they’re OK with rewriting the law to force the BPU to look the other way for one offshore wind project?

In the end, this isn’t about the pros and cons of offshore wind energy. It’s about playing fair.