Democrats from New Jersey's congressional delegation are prodding the Christie administration to finalize a key funding mechanism for offshore wind energy projects in light of an impending federal auction to sell lease rights for wind farms off the New Jersey coast.
In 2010, Governor Christie signed legislation designed to make New Jersey a leader in offshore wind energy. The bill directed the state Board of Public Utilities to develop a plan that would ensure that offshore wind farms had a buyer for the electricity they produced. It also guaranteed a purchase price that would help cover the upfront costs of building the wind farms while not being too expensive for the state's ratepayers. But five years later, the BPU has yet to finalize the mechanism.
Several members of Congress from New Jersey sent Christie a letter Wednesday urging him to get a plan in place, because the federal government recently announced it will auction off the lease rights to nearly 344,000 acres for wind farms about seven nautical miles off New Jersey.
If fully developed, the area up for lease could generate at least 3,400 megawatts of wind energy — enough to power about 1.2 million homes, according to the Department of Energy's Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Environmental groups and some Democrats in the Legislature have criticized the Christie administration for not developing the funding mechanism, saying the state is losing ground in its bid to be a leader in wind energy. This summer, a company began construction of the first offshore wind farm in the country — off Rhode Island.
Some in the industry say the state that develops offshore wind first will benefit most from the new jobs created to support the industry, including manufacturing companies that might set up shop in-state to build the parts needed for wind turbines.
The federal auction "has the promise of making New Jersey a national leader in the development of offshore wind," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Christie. "Offshore wind has incredible potential to spur new manufacturing in New Jersey, create good-paying jobs, and provide our residents with a clean, affordable, and abundant source of power."
The letter was signed by Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, as well as Rep. Frank Pallone of Long Branch. In the face of criticism on its lack of action regarding wind power, the Christie administration has repeatedly defended its record on clean energy in general, noting that the state ranks among the leaders in solar installations.
BPU spokesman Greg Reinert said the agency is working with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and providing input on the lease sale. "This administration continues to support the development of sustainable, clean offshore wind energy production in a manner that is economically sound and that protects our ratepayers from exposure," Reinert said.
Another setback for offshore wind in New Jersey has been the BPU's repeated rejection of a pilot offshore wind project proposed by Fisherman's Energy. The BPU said that due to the subsidies the project would need, it would be too costly for ratepayers.
Fisherman's was one of 13 companies the federal government said qualifies to participate in its upcoming lease. Paul Gallagher, the chief operating officer for Fishermen's Energy, said he was encouraged by the congressional letter pushing to finalize the state's offshore wind-funding mechanism.
"We appreciate the continued support of our federal delegation and hope that New Jersey moves quickly to capitalize on this opportunity," Gallagher said.