A Cape May company is awaiting word from state regulators about the future of New Jersey's first offshore wind farm.
The state Board of Public Utilities heard closing arguments late last month from Fishermen's Energy, of Cape May, a consortium of partners from the commercial fishing industry.
The company wants to build six wind turbines nearly 3 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. This 25-megawatt demonstration project would be the forerunner of a much more ambitious and expensive wind farm in federal waters farther out at sea.
In its closing briefs, Fishermen's Energy urged the board to approve the state's first offshore wind credits, the same funding mechanism New Jersey used to become a nation leader in solar energy.
Fishermen's Energy would sell these Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificates at an artificial price to energy companies to help them meet government quotas for renewable energy.
The New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, which represents utility customers, initially opposed the project after a state consultant concluded it would lead to higher electric bills and stifle the state's job growth.
But the counsel agreed to support Fishermen's Energy's application in July after the company reduced its certificate price from $310 to $187, which reduces the hundreds of millions of dollars extra that electric customers would have to pay for power to fund the project. On Friday, the rate counsel would not say what that additional cost to customers would be.
The rate counsel also found that the project met the company's obligation to provide net benefits to the public, including an estimated $150 million in manufacturing, construction and investment dollars.
"There was a stipulation we worked on. What came out of the stipulation was the best deal for the state of New Jersey," Fishermen's Energy spokeswoman Rhonda Jackson said.
Under the terms of the proposal, utility customers pay only if and when the turbines generate electricity.
"Nothing would cost the ratepayers until the turbines are spinning," she said.
The company argued that its application meets both the spirit and the letter of New Jersey's new Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, which was signed into law in 2010 by Gov. Chris Christie. The act is designed to jumpstart this new industry.
But the BPU has been cautious in approving this application, the first of its kind in New Jersey and one of the first offshore wind farms proposed anywhere in the United States.
The company's application has been pending for nearly three years of studies, public hearings and negotiations.
"(Fishermen's Energy) has worked tirelessly over the more than 900 days of this proceeding to put forth a comprehensive application that clearly outlines all the facets of the project and unequivocally demonstrates the significant benefits that will flow to the state through its approval," the company said in its closing brief.
Paul Gallagher, chief operating officer for Fishermen's Energy and former general counsel for the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, said the approval process has been deliberate and thorough. He noted that public polls such as the one conducted last year by Monmouth University Polling Institute found widespread support in New Jersey for offshore wind farms.
"We look forward to a prompt resolution so Fishermen's can proceed not only with construction in Atlantic City but with the hundreds of jobs that come with it," he said in a statement.
As part of the construction pricetag, the company agreed to set aside $4 million to dismantle the wind turbines when the project is decommissioned.
"Just as Iowa has become the center of jobs for the on-shore wind industry, the BPU's approval of the Fishermen's Energy project can be the first step in making New Jersey the center of the new American offshore wind industry," CEO Chris Wissemann said in a statement.
The BPU did not indicate when it would make a decision, Jackson said.
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