A wind farm off Atlantic City is $47 million closer to reality as local and state officials celebrated a federal loan for the long-gestating project.

“The Fishermen’s Energy Atlantic City wind farm has the potential to become the first … wind project in the United States. And that could potentially make Atlantic City the birthplace of offshore wind in America,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said in an appearance Thursday at Steel Pier alongside Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, state Sen. Jim Whelan and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo.

Menendez strained to speak over the noise of the rides at the Steel Pier, on an appropriately windy day in the resort.

Others in attendance included representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy, Democratic congressional candidate Bill Hughes, and board members of Fishermen’s Energy.

In May, Fishermen’s Energy was awarded $47 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to build its 25-megawatt project 3 miles off Atlantic City. That funding came even as the firm is engaged in a legal battle with the state Board of Public Utilities, which has twice rejected the project due to the perceived costs to rate payers.

“We might be behind the rest of the world … but what’s happening today says ‘yes, this is real, this is a real project.’ And hopefully, the state BPU will look at this grant and recognize that this can happen, and will happen, and get them onboard,” Whelan said.

Fishermen’s Energy is confident the BPU’s decision will be overturned and the project will move forward. Officials say the windfarm could begin construction immediately. The project calls for erecting five 5-megawatt, direct-drive wind turbines offshore.

Rhonda Jackson, the company’s director of communication, said the DOE grant will go a long way toward meeting the project’s $200 million budget. The rest of that funding will probably come through construction loans, she said.

“There’ll be some construction financing that’ll have to be obtained as we move forward, but this gets us to the next level,” she said. “It’ll cover design work and a lot of different things over the next four years.”

In addition, Gallagher said he would pursue a project 7 miles offshore in a large swath of federal waters along the Atlantic Coast, a project that would likely cost about $2 billion. The smaller project 3 miles off Atlantic City would help prepare the firm for that more ambitious one in federal waters.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Department of Interior previously announced plans to lease 344,000 acres of federal territory about seven miles off the Atlantic City coast for commercial wind energy production. In total, the BOEM is looking for developers of about 1.5 million acres along the Eastern Seaboard.

New Jersey would have a southern and northern area, which would produce energy to power 1.2 million homes. The southern parcel is about 160,000 acres.

Guardian said that before the Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s onshore wind farm came to the city, many critics opposed the idea, citing worries about the wind turbines killing birds, but now some visitors request rooms facing the windmills.

Rick Dovey, president of the ACUA, said he’s heartened by the progress made off New Jersey and elsewhere, particularly after the roadblocks of the recession, the regulatory process and relatively low energy prices in recent years.

This is natural area for the wind industry to develop, he said, because of the access to shore and how shallow the continental shelf is.

“Every major accomplishment like this is good news,” said Dovey, who worked with Gallagher in the past on the ACUA’s wind farm. “The reality of offshore wind is coming and any progress Fishermen’s Energy makes is positive.”

Menendez added it would help the state’s economy by creating 250 jobs and $100 million in economic activity.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

609-272-7247

@ACPressAnj on Twitter

Contact Wallace McKelvey:

609-272-7256

@wjmckelvey on Twitter

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.