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Fishermen's Energy tells BPU it feels it has made its case for wind farm

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At a hearing Friday morning before the state Board of Public Utilities, attorney Denis Driscoll made the case that his client, Cape May-based Fishermen's Energy, had met every necessary burden in the way of receiving approval for its proposed 25-megawatt wind farm 2.8 miles off the Atlantic City coast.

On nearly every issue that arose, the company cooperated with the BPU's requests, Driscoll said.

"When asked, we capitulated," he said.

The company is seeking to build what would not only be the first of its kind in New Jersey, but for anywhere else in the country as well. The proposal spawned from the state's Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, which Gov. Chris Christie signed into law in 2010.

But since then, any offshore wind development in the state has essentially stalled, leaving many in the Legislature and elsewhere to blame the Christie administration for a lack of progress on the initiative.

Though Fishermen's has the necessary permits to move forward with the project, it can't begin building the turbines until the BPU approves its application to obtain an Offshore Renewable Energy Certificate, also known as an OREC, which demonstrates its viability.

Driscoll testified that some of the BPU staff's tactics throughout the process have been "highly unusual and suspect." Regardless, Driscoll said, Fishermen's is as eager as ever to go ahead with the project.

"They're still in the game," Driscoll said. "They still want to go forward."

Driscoll repeatedly noted that the project presented no financial risk to either the ratepayer or to the state if for some reason it is unable to get off the ground.

"There is no risk if the project does not get constructed," Driscoll said.

Deputy attorney general Alex Moreau, representing BPU staff at the hearing, argued against the approval of the application on the grounds that the BPU believes the project does not offer sufficient net benefits to the state.

"Bottom line is that ratepayers have to pay for this," Moreau said.

Moreau added that the BPU also believes that Fishermen's has not proven that it can proceed with the project unless it obtains federal funding which has been presumed, not guaranteed, up to this point.

The issue of potential net benefit to the state has been heavily debated by both parties. Though Driscoll used a figure of $33 million for argument's sake, he dually noted that Fishermen's believes it is too conservative of an estimate. The $33 million projection comes from a report issued by consulting firm Boston Pacific that was commissioned by the state.

"We believe it's a lot higher," Driscoll said. "Maybe three or four times."

For example, Driscoll said, the company has good reason to believe that its project would attract XEMC, the project's turbine supplier, to commit to the construction of a turbine manufacturing plant in Paulsboro.

There are currently "preliminary discussions" underway between the two companies, Driscoll said.

But Moreau argued that while Fishermen's has hypothetically touted job creation as a result of the project, at no point in the official record has it offered specifics.

"This is right for New Jersey," Driscoll said. "The time is now."

It's unclear when the BPU will next take action on the matter.

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