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Harnessing the power of wind still years away for New Jersey

NEEBRANDENBURG, GERMANY - OCTOBER 17:  Wind turbines spin at a windpark on October 17, 2012 near Neubrandenburg, Germany. Germany's electricity network operators recently announced that they will raise the charge to consumers for subsidizing renewable energy investments by 50%. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Wind turbines (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Almost seven years ago, Gov. Chris Christie signaled the state was ready to move boldly forward to develop wind farms off the coast. But since then, efforts to develop the clean energy alternative have stalled.

Two developers, DONG Energy and U.S. Wind Inc., have spent millions of dollars to get leases from the federal government to build a series of giant turbines out in the ocean off the Jersey coast. But so far, final licensing has not been approved by the state Board of Public Utilities.

“We were supposed to be the first state in the nation to have wind farms off the coast. It was great idea, but so far we’re still waiting,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen, chairman of the Environment & Solid Waste Committee.

Eustace said developing wind power would create jobs and give the state an economic shot in the arm.

He explained the turbine towers would go down 100 to 150 feet into the ocean and stand 300 feet tall. The blades would be 300 feet across.

“First, you’d have to build the materials. Hopefully we’d a factory that could build the blades here, so we’re talking about literally thousands of jobs. The economic boon would be incredible,” he said.

PUMP UP THE POWER

How N.J. generates its electricity:
Nuclear — 48%
Natural gas — 47.5%
Renewables — 2.2%
Coal — 1.9%
Petroleum — 0.3%

How the rest of the country generates it:
Coal — 33%
Natural gas — 33%
Nuclear — 20%
Renewables — 7%
Hydroelectric — 6%
Petroleum — 1%

Source: U.S. Energy Information Admin.

“There’s one factory in the world that has 9,000 employees in it who build these blades. We could be that manufacturer, and not just for New Jersey but for the two continents on this side of the planet. We could be the people developing that.”

Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey, said the time to move forward and develop wind power is now.

“Offshore wind makes so much sense because it works,” he said.

“It’s one of the biggest ways to get clean energy in a region that desperately needs it and it’s a way to spark the clean energy economy because the steel that it takes to build hundreds of wind turbines are good union paying jobs that should be right here in New Jersey.”

Eustace noted the price of wind right now is much higher than other resources, but “as we develop wind power, it will come down drastically because more players would be in the field, if you follow what I’m saying.”

Rhode Island and Massachusetts have the only two wind farms on the east coast.

“We already have the pieces in place to move this. It’s a matter of getting the governor to allow these wind farms to be built. It should be part of our energy portfolio. There’s no reason why the United States shouldn’t be a winner in wind power.”

Eustace suggested Christie cooled off on the idea of developing wind power after his presidential run.

The governor’s office declined to comment on that, and referred questions to the BPU.

BPU spokesman J. Gregory Reinert said in a written statement that the process for developing a wind farm off the coast is moving forward.

“With the enactment of the Offshore Wind and Economic Development Act and with one the largest offshore wind resource along the east coast, New Jersey is one of the leaders in efforts to support sustainable offshore wind-to-energy that protects ratepayers, improves the environment and delivers net economic develop benefits.”

“Moving forward, the developers have a number of significant tasks to undertake to evaluate the feasibly and costs with the OSW programs,” including submitting a site assessment plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

After the federal government approves a developer’s site assessment plan, the developer has five years to conduct studies for a construction operation plan.

One developer already has requested an extension for its site assessment plan, Reinert said.

“During this time the BPU will continue to work with the developers and other stakeholders on a number of tasks, including a funding mechanism, to ensure an offshore wind program that works for ratepayers and the market.”

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Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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