By Briana Vannozzi
The fight to bring wind energy to the Jersey Shore has, so far, yielded a lot of hot air. But the state has more potential than any other in the region to produce offshore wind power, according to new research.
“New Jersey is sitting on an untapped clean energy jackpot,” said Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley.
O’Malley’s group issued the report detailing how offshore wind could, over the course of the next five years, create 1,700 megawatts of power.
“And what that means is it could power more than half a million homes,” O’Malley said. It would reduce pollution equal to 1.1 million cars.
But efforts have been slow in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill — called the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act — five years ago. O’Malley says the state has yet to create a financing plan to make it affordable for utility customers to pay wind-farm operators for power and avoid subsidies.
“Just at the end of last year there was an extension of federal tax credits which creates certainty for the industry. And we’ve seen the industry really explode in Europe. There was four times offshore wind installed last year and what that has meant is that costs are coming down,” O’Malley said.
“We don’t believe that taxpayers should be subsidizing this. The investment should come from the private sector and these industries should be allowed to innovate. We’re not against solar or wind, what we’re against are the corporate welfare subsidies,” said Mike Proto of Americans for Prosperity.
Opponents — like Americans for Prosperity — cite federal studies contending offshore wind is three times more expensive than natural gas.
“This agenda will mean higher electricity rates costing more to keep their lights on to heat their homes and to run a business here in the state of New Jersey,” Proto said.
The BPU says it hasn’t read this report, but is still working on the funding mechanism. Last year, it retained a consultant to help write the guidelines. Environmental groups and South Jersey lawmakers see each passing year as a missed opportunity to spur growth and clean energy in the state.
In a statement, Sen. Jim Whelan told us, “South Jersey generally still lags behind the rest of the state in terms of recovery and the hope had always been that Paulsboro on the Delaware Bay side would serve as a port for development of offshore wind and that Atlantic City would serve as the maintenance hub. Obviously in both cases you’re diversifying your economy.”
“You had two offshore wind companies spend nearly $2 million to purchase the auction rights for nearly 340,000 acres of the Atlantic Ocean to construct offshore wind. So you have two companies who think this is a great investment and quite frankly you have the reality that the clean power plan, EPA’s plan will go into effect,” O’Malley said.
It can take years for approval on such projects and so far, only Rhode Island has been successful. The report stresses urgency, saying offshore wind is key to New Jersey’s goal of generating 22.5 percent renewable energy by 2021.