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A 180 on wind Murphy's enthusiasm winds up wind-power proponents

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Gov. Phil Murphy said he wants to move New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
Gov. Phil Murphy said he wants to move New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

The political winds have shifted in New Jersey, and that might get some turbines turning.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities issued an order last month supporting the development of enough offshore wind turbines to produce 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity, enough to meet the energy needs of an estimated 640,000 homes. Gov. Phil Murphy prompted the move with an executive order, effectively spinning the state’s position on wind energy 180 degrees from that under his predecessor.

“As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and citizens of New Jersey, we must ensure that the future of energy is clean for the generations to come,” NJBPU President Joseph Fiordaliza said. “To this end, the board will take the first step in Gov. Murphy’s plan to move New Jersey toward 100 percent clean energy by 2050 and make New Jersey a national leader in offshore wind.”

It’s an ambitious goal, and getting there will mean overcoming a variety of financial and other obstacles. So far, the U.S.’ only commercial offshore wind farm is a 30 megawatt, five-turbine project off Rhode Island providing power to Block Island.

NJBPU staff still needs to establish an interagency Offshore Wind Task Force with the state Department of Environmental Protection and others to develop a strategic plan to implement Murphy’s executive order. The agency also must establish a way to fund Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificates to subsidize wind-facility development.

“New Jersey is an attractive area for an offshore wind facility because you need a large population center along a coast, and the state has to be interested in renewable energy.”

Paul Rich, US Wind Inc. director of business development

New Jersey once was in the running to host the first offshore wind power facility in the U.S., with Fishermen’s Energy LLC aiming to build six windmills 3 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. But the proposal generated a lot of press but no power.

It also reportedly burned through almost $11 million for permits and other fees before the U.S. Energy Department yanked a $47 million grant last year, effectively mothballing the project.

Still, Fishermen’s Energy former CEO and current board member Chris Wissemann said he has been “keenly interested” in the signals coming from the Murphy administration.

“The 1,100 MW wind-power proposal from the BPU is the biggest-ever from the agency,” said Wissemann, now managing director at Chicago-area consultancy New Power Ventures.

He’s also working as an adviser with Innogy SE, the German-based energy company that agreed in December to acquire the onshore wind operations of EverPower Wind Holdings, which has land-based turbines in Pennsylvania and other states.

“Fishermen’s Energy continues to hope that our offshore wind project will be approved and built,” Wissemann said. “We are discussing submitting a new proposal. The wind energy industry needs to see some completed projects.”

Wissemann said Fishermen’s Energy has learned from the past.

“The New Jersey BPU didn’t like our financing arrangement, which was with a China source, and an ‘unproven’ turbine we were sourcing from a China company,” he recalled. “This time around we’re in advanced-stage discussions with a well-established, brand-name owner-operator of renewable energy that does business in the U.S.”

Another company, Baltimore-based US Wind Inc., also wants to develop offshore wind turbines off the coast of Atlantic City.

“Gov. Murphy is doing everything right,” said Paul Rich, the company’s director of business development. “We need big goals and a lot of leadership.”

Long-term deals are important, he said.

“If you have a 20-year supply contract and know your engineering and other costs, you can reliably project a return on investment and approach a bank or other source for financing,” Rich said. “New Jersey is an attractive area for an offshore wind facility because you need a large population center along a coast, and the state has to be interested in renewable energy.”

He said New Jersey should plan a small project first to train labor and gain a thorough understanding of all the mechanics of procurement before trying for a large project.

“You need to walk before you run,” Rich added.

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