New Jersey Takes Slow, Steady Approach to Offshore Wind
Europe has been operating huge wind turbines offshore for more than a decade, while here in the U.S., this cutting edge clean technology seems perennially "five years off."
The infamous project proposed offshore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been under deliberation for more than 10 years. During that time, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, and seven other countries have already installed 53 offshore wind farms totaling 3,813 megawatts (MW) of carbon free electricity. That is enough power to keep the lights on for more than 2.8 million American homes, or a city larger than the size of Chicago.
The international wind power industry is watching Washington, DC to see if lawmakers will extend the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind power. But their eyes are also focused on Trenton, the state capital of New Jersey, to see if state regulators there will help launch America's long-awaited offshore wind energy industry.
In August of 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, which authorizes up $100 million in ratepayer-funded subsidies for offshore wind developments in the Atlantic Ocean that connect to the New Jersey grid. Special "offshore renewable energy credits" (ORECs) help make projects more economic, but unlike the Solyndra federal government loan guarantees, these subsidies are only awarded after projects meet a cost/benefit criteria and produce renewable energy delivered state consumers. In addition, a "Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund" offers additional grants and loans based on local job creation. Many experts consider New Jersey's offshore wind program to be the most well conceived state policy initiative in the nation.
Perhaps the most unusual company pursuing the Garden State's offshore wind power opportunity is Fishermen's Energy, based in Cape May, New Jersey. Several of the East Coast's largest commercial fishing companies have partnered to create the company, which has been developing a 25 MW project for several years. In contrast to Cape Wind and other ambitious proposals, the New Jersey-based consortium chose a step-by-step approach: a demonstration project. It is siting its five turbine windfarm within the three-mile state-controlled boundary off Atlantic City, a city looking to extend its image — and economy — beyond casino gambling. If building America's first offshore windfarm were a race, Fishermen's Energy might look like the tortoise to Cape Wind's hare.
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Offshore Wind image via Shutterstock