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Sweeney blasts inaction on wind

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Lawmakers and an environmental group today said New Jersey stands to make significant environmental and economic gains from the development of offshore wind, but only if state and federal officials act soon.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Cranbury) today joined the group Environment New Jersey as it unveiled a new report tallying the impacts of wind energy.

Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for the group, said New Jersey has "huge, really enormous untapped wind potential — and it lies just off of our shore, our 127 miles of shoreline."

"We can tap into a lot of that energy, and Congress can go a long way to help us do that, but time is running out for Congress to act," he said.

Elliott's main concern is a pair of federal tax credits set to expire at years' end. The renewable energy production tax credit offers tax incentives to companies that generate clean energy, while the offshore wind investment tax credit covers up to 30 percent of the cost of offshore wind.

Sweeney, meanwhile, said he's frustrated with inaction on the state level. He noted that the Board of Public Utilities is more than a year late producing regulations for an offshore wind credit program created by the state's 2010 Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, which was signed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Sweeney said New Jersey stood to become the region's leader in offshore wind, and a manufacturing hub for wind the wind industry from Virginia to Maine. Without BPU action, he said, that opportunity is fading.

"The governor's normally been pretty good at getting anyone who works for him to respond to things of importance," Sweeney said. "Well, the economy and jobs are extremely important. This state needs them desperately."

According to the Environment New Jersey study, wind energy already avoids about 68 million metric tons of pollution each year — the equivalent of about 13 million passenger cars — but also saves enough water to supply the city of Boston. Massive amounts of water are used to cool fossil-fuel power plants.

In New Jersey, the 16,000 megawatt-hours of wind energy produced each year help avoid some 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That amount could double in the next four years if the current pace of development is maintained, the report said.

Greenstein said the Garden State has been a leader in renewable energy, citing Sweeney's offshore wind act as a prime example.

"I hope that the federal government will have the foresight to extend these tax credits so that we can continue this, and I hope New Jersey will continue to be a leader," she said.

Sweeney said he realized the BPU has a lot of work related to Hurricane Sandy, but he said that's no excuse.

"Look, this is horrible, the storm that we're dealing with," he said, "but if they had done their job when they were supposed to, we'd be talking about construction of windmills off the coast, and the federal money wouldn't have expired or been at the verge of expiring. They could have cost us, by not acting, billions of dollars."

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