An Atlantic City offshore wind energy project rejected twice by the state's Board of Public Utilities now has the support — nearly $47 million dollars worth — of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Fishermen's Energy's project is one of three set to receive as much as $46.7 million over the next four years, the United States Department of Energy announced Wednesday.
The funds will supplement an investment by Fishermen's Energy principals to finalize the project, which planners hope to have operational by 2016.
“This is a win, not just for Fishermen's Energy — this is a win for a potential industry to come to New Jersey,” Fishermen's Energy Director of Communication Rhonda Jackson said. “This is a win for Atlantic City.”
Also receiving funding are offshore wind energy projects in Coos Bay, Ore. and Virginia Beach.
Fishermen's Energy of Cape May was selected by the Department of Energy from a pool of more than 50 applicants following two rounds of analysis, CEO Chris Wisseman said in a statement.
The project includes the installation of five 5-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines. It would act as a laboratory for researchers to learn about offshore wind and investigate interactions between turbines.
This and the other two projects that received funding Wednesday will "help speed the deployment of more efficient offshore wind power technologies," according to a release by the Department of Energy.
The project is designed to show off the potential for wind energy in advance of larger projects farther offshore. It has won the support of several local leaders, among them the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
In February that group issued a unanimous resolution urging the BPU to approve the project, citing improvements to the energy industry and economic development in the region.
“Fishermen’s Energy is attempting right now to get the BPU to reconsider the project,” At-Large Freeholder Alex Marino said Wednesday. “I think $47 million from the United States Department of Energy is one hell of a reason to reconsider.”
If the project gets needed approvals, construction is planned to start onshore in 2015, with offshore construction and commissioning to follow in 2016. If it meets this timeline, it would be the first grid-connected offshore windfarm in the United States, according to a Fishermen's Energy release.
But the project has hit a roadblock in New Jersey in the form of the BPU, which has twice rejected its plans, citing concerns about the project's viability.
In its initial rejection of the project in March, the BPU cited among its concerns the project’s dependence on a mix of subsidies and federal grants to keep energy rates from skyrocketing. Following Wednesday’s announcement, project supporter and Environmental New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley said the project should be reconsidered.
“The BPU was hung up on whether Fishermen’s was going to get this grant,” he said. “Lo and behold, Fishermen’s has now gotten this federal $47 million grant. The BPU’s argument just got its legs cut out from underneath it.”
Fishermen’s Energy appealed the BPU’s decision, requesting to present additional evidence and alleging the utility regulator relied on factual errors, but the appeal was rejected April 23. The developer said it plans to go before state appellate court — which can review BPU decisions — over those rejections, citing a belief the BPU is overestimating its production costs.
Jackson said the project cannot move forward without BPU approval for Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificates, which offer a method of financing renewable energy projects by guaranteeing state power companies will purchase the electricity. She’s hopeful the influx of federal cash will provide the impetus to reopen discussions.
“We're hoping this will give the BPU another opportunity to be able to talk with us, and we could actually get back to negotiations with them,” she said.
BPU Director of Communications J. Gregory Reinert declined comment, saying he cannot speak on matters pending before the court.
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