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Citing misleading unemployment numbers, Whelan renews call for off-shore wind

A South Jersey developer may be getting its fourth shot at convincing the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities that its proposed off-shore wind facility would be enough of an economic boon for the state to justify tax incentives that would come along with it. Senator Jim Whelan (D-2), who sponsored a successful Senate bill to clear the way for turbines off Atlantic City’s coastline, said Monday that the continuing economic blight in South Jersey should guide Governor Christie’s decision.

Saying that new figures showing a slight drop in the city’s unemployment since 2014 paint a misleading picture, and that South Jersey stands to benefit from its topographic “sweet spot” of strong off-shore winds, Whelan reiterated his case for new energy facilities and new jobs.

“There’s a stark contrast in the economies between South Jersey and North Jersey,” said Whelan. “Don’t be fooled by the improvement in unemployment numbers.”

The improvement in the unemployment numbers here is because people are moving out of the area, because new jobs are going to Pennsylvania or to Baltimore, and so on.”

Assembly co-sponsor Vince Mazzeo echoed Whelan’s call for new investment in a statement Monday.

“New Jersey has the potential to be a national leader in wind energy, starting right here in Atlantic City. Creating jobs so we can green our economy and our environment should be a priority,” said Mazzeo.

With permits already in place and energy giant Siemens already slated to buy in, Whelan and co-sponsor Vince Mazzeo are hoping that the promise of 500 construction jobs and several dozen maintenance jobs will sway Christie by the January 11 deadline.

The legislation facing approval before the end of lame duck would create a new thirty-day window for the Cape May developer Fisherman’s Energy, which has been anticipating final approval to build since preliminary legislation first passed in 2010. The project failed to gain the BPU’s approval three times, and subsequent legal challenges failed to reverse the outcome.

Critics of the project claim that the project is a trial run for what would be a spate of similar tax breaks for wind energy providers, with the Press of Atlantic City coming out against the project.

Though the Press claims that the six turbines’ low 25-megawatt output justifies the BPU’s decision, Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley said that the existing approvals should speak for themselves.

“We don’t know what year we’re going to be allowed to build this in,” O’Malley said of the stalemate between Fisherman’s Energy and the Board of Public Utilities.

“One has to imagine that Governor Chris Christie is not going to continually run for president for the next two years, and so we certainly are hopeful that the reality of off-shore wind and its benefits to New Jersey will ultimately outweigh any political considerations by the governor.”