Feds OK 47 million for N.J. offshore wind project amid clash with state regulators

Joshua Burd//May 8, 2014//

Feds OK 47 million for N.J. offshore wind project amid clash with state regulators

Joshua Burd//May 8, 2014//

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An offshore wind energy project near Atlantic City has been awarded up to $47 million in federal funding, only weeks after being rejected by New Jersey regulators and faced with new doubts after several years of planning.The proposal by Cape May-based Fishermen’s Energy was among three picked by the U.S. Department of Energy. In an announcement Wednesday, the department said it could receive the funds over the next four years for deploying “innovative, grid-connected systems in federal and state waters by 2017,” helping spur other projects and boosting the government’s effort to build a long-term offshore wind industry.

Fishermen’s Energy said the funding would help it be connected and operating by 2016, in what could be the first offshore wind farm in the country. The five-turbine project reportedly would cost about $188 million.

But the news comes amid a stalemate between the company and New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities, following months of delays that have frustrated offshore wind advocates. On April 23, the BPU declined to reconsider the 25-megawatt wind farm after first rejecting it in March.

Much of the board’s objection stemmed from uncertainty over whether the developer would secure the federal funding and be able to defray the costs to ratepayers, according to BPU documents.

Fishermen’s Energy has long had all the permits it needs, but it had needed BPU approval to join the state’s offshore renewable energy credit program. Also known as OREC, the program would create a market by allowing power companies to buy the energy generated by the wind farm.

On Monday, Fishermen’s Energy filed an appeal with a state appellate court, spokeswoman Rhonda Jackson said. But she added that the company was hopeful it could reopen talks with the BPU now that it had secured the federal funds:

“We’re still willing to undertake negotiations and meet with them,” Jackson said.

A board spokesman said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on pending matters before the court.

Still, Fishermen’s touted the news from federal government, which said the project was among three “pioneering offshore wind demonstrations” that could “help further lower costs, drive greater performance and clear hurdles to installing more utility-scale turbines in U.S. waters.” The funds will help finalize construction planning, fabrication and deployment of the project three miles off Atlantic City’s coast, with construction planned to begin next year.

“The selection by the Department of Energy is an affirmation of the hard work and good planning over the last seven years by the Fishermen’s Energy team,” Dan Cohen, the firm’s chairman and founder, said in a prepared statement. “No other project in America is more prepared to be put steel in the water and this recognition by the (DOE) acknowledges that fact.”

Fishermen’s CEO Chris Wissemann noted the firm was selected from an initial 50 applicants and vetted over two rounds. He said the firm “is confident that the (BPU) will recognize the vetting by the DOE of the project, and will now engage with Fishermen’s to finalize our OREC application so the project can proceed expeditiously.”

The company was awarded the funds as part of the Obama administration’s sweeping plan to increase the use of renewable energy, following a rigorous selection process over two years.

“Offshore wind offers a large, untapped energy resource for the United States that can create thousands of manufacturing, construction and supply chain jobs across the country and drive billions of dollars in local economic investment,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a prepared statement. “The Energy Department is working with public and private partners to harness this untapped resource in a sustainable and economic manner.”