State Takes Another Small Step Toward Cranking Up Offshore Wind Industry

After progress stalled under Christie administration, new governor has ambitious agenda. But developers worry time will run out before they can access federal tax incentives.

The state is seeking input on how it should go about developing 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, an initial step toward soliciting project proposals from developers after years of delay.

The proceeding, initiated by the Board of Public Utilities, is the latest indication the state is now moving to implement an eight-year-old law designed to promote offshore wind, a top priority of Gov. Phil Murphy and clean energy advocates.

In seeking written comments and input at a public hearing later this month, the agency is looking to answer questions about how it structures the financing, the buildout, and a competitive process to buy electricity from offshore wind farms.

The Murphy administration has set an ambitious target of developing 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, even as New Jersey is lagging behind other states in developing wind farms off its coast. The blame is largely pinned on former Gov. Chris Christie who signed a law in 2010 promoting offshore wind, but quickly cooled on the prospect due to its high cost.

With a new administration in place, offshore wind developers are anxious to quicken the pace in getting projects under construction, while acknowledging the state is pushing the process along.

“After eight years of moving very slowly, or not at all, the BPU, under Gov. Murphy, is making great strides,’’ said Chris Wissermann, president of Fishermen’s Energy, a developer seeking to build a small 24-megawatt pilot project three miles off Atlantic City.

Many issues still to resolve

“It feels like they are just keep this thing rolling,’’ agreed Bill O’Hearn, of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a group trying to promote the benefits of offshore wind. “We’d feel better if we know when they go from all these various plans underway to an actual solicitation.’’

Developers worry that if the state does not move fast enough, their projects may not be able to qualify for a lucrative federal tax incentive for offshore wind that expires at the end of 2019.

Before any solicitation occurs in New Jersey, the state agency still has many issues to resolve, including how offshore wind developers will qualify for ratepayer subsidies under the law passed eight years ago.

The BPU has developed a straw proposal on the funding mechanism, but it still needs to be formally proposed and adopted after extensive comment from the public.

Another unresolved issue concerns who builds the transmission systems to bring the power from offshore wind farms into New Jersey and to customers.

Nevertheless, clean energy advocates welcome any movement on offshore wind — given the time lost over the past eight years.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but the Murphy administration is clearly moving forward,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Fishermen’s Energy, a project twice rejected by the BPU, expects to file a new application with the agency by the end of the month, according to Wissermann. The project got new life under a bill signed by the governor in May, which directs the BPU to review the proposal again within 90 days of the company submitting its application.

The public hearing on the future solicitation will be held July 19 at Mercer Community College beginning at 10 a.m.

Original Article