PROTEST
Protester Mark Hutchinson, 52, of Mays Landing, participates in an anti-wind rally Thursday outside the Atlantic County Utilities Authority's wind farm on Route 30 in Atlantic City. Bill Gross

ATLANTIC CITY - A political group protested the state's plans to spend public money on New Jersey's new offshore wind industry.

About 20 members or supporters of Americans for Prosperity rallied Thursday in front of the five windmills at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority to denounce offshore wind as a public waste of money.

They also called on lawmakers to kill a program that sells carbon credits. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a 10-state cooperative with a goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent by 2018.

Under the program, states sell carbon "credits" through auctions and invest the money in clean-energy technologies such as wind power. The 10 states will hold the next auction Wednesday.

Americans for Prosperity spokesman Steven Lonegan said this program is secretive and will lead to higher electric bills in New Jersey.

"This will destroy this economy and no less than that," he said. "But it gets worse. The money raised in revenues to the state will be poured into this hare-brained scheme to build (offshore) windmills that are destined to fail."

Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman, who represents the local political group Liberty and Prosperity, said he was late for Thursday's protest because he was held up in bankruptcy court, where he is representing someone and where there is a big backlog of cases.

Grossman said increasing electricity rates will only lead to more bankruptcies in New Jersey.

Three companies, including Fishermen's Energy of Cape May, have won early approvals from the state Board of Public Utilities to build offshore wind farms between Atlantic City and Avalon.

Fishermen's Energy plans to build six turbines in a demonstration project 2.8 miles off the resort next year and a larger project 11 miles from shore. The company declined to comment on Thursday's protest.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie, who defeated Lonegan in last year's Republican primary, signed a bill that provides as much as $100 million in tax credits to new wind-energy companies that open in Paulsboro, Gloucester County. The law also creates an artificial market for this source of energy, which at least initially is expected to be more expensive than other sources of power.

Lonegan compared New Jersey's move to build offshore wind to its calamitous decision to build incinerators in the 1980s during a landfill shortage. Five county trash authorities built incinerators only to have trouble paying for them when rules were relaxed over interstate trash hauling.

"This is not about the environment. This is a money-making scheme between big business and big government," he said.

Local supporters of the group said they oppose the program for fear it will lead to higher utility rates.

"The little guy is broke," Northfield retiree Nate Nathanson said. "He's being utilitied and taxed to death."

Dennis Mahon, also of Northfield, said he would consider moving out of state if utility bills get steeper.

"It's another reason for me to ask, ‘Why should I stay here?'" he said. "What are we going to sacrifice to build these ridiculous windmills 20 miles at sea?"

The protest took place in front of the ACUA's five windmills at its complex off Route 30.

The authority leased land to Community Energy, which built the five windmills in 2003. The windmills' new owner, Blue Arc of Houston, maintains them and sells electricity generated by the blades to the authority at a steeply discounted rate.

That saves the authority about $600,000 per year in electricity bills, President Rick Dovey said.

Contact Michael Miller:

609-272-7247