A Cape May County company took another step Wednesday toward building the nation's first offshore wind farm off Atlantic City.
Fishermen's Energy of Cape May on Wednesday said it secured coastal permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection to erect six wind turbines and stretch an underground cable from the project site 2.5 miles off the resort to a junction box behind the Tennessee Avenue Boardwalk.
"It will allow this firs demonstration project to move ahead," DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said.
The company still needs approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, perhaps more daunting, the launch of a renewable-energy program in which polluters can buy offshore-wind credits.
These credits are expected to help finance the nascent offshore-wind industry. A similar program was successful in kick-starting the state's solar farms in 2008.
For every megawatt of solar energy produced, the owner gets one credit that can be sold or transferred to electric suppliers who can buy them to meet their clean-energy quotas.
The company applied to the state Board of Public Utilities in February for these Offshore Renewable Energy Certificates.
The turbines off Atlantic City are expected to generate less than 25 megawatts, Fishermen's Energy spokesman Rhonda Jackson said.
The company also is applying to the Statehouse Commission for Green Acres approvals to stretch its electric cable 7 feet beneath the Atlantic City beach.
The company is preparing 12 months of wildlife observations at the project site - particularly of marine mammals like whales and dolphins -- for submission to the Army Corps, the lead federal agency for this project.
"We have to look at everything from soup to nuts," Army Corps project manager Larry Slavitter said.
The agency has asked the company to provide more information about the anticipated impact the turbines will have on birds and marine life, he said.
Offshore wind farms are found in Europe and other parts of the world but they are new to North America. Since this is the first project of its kind in the United States, Slavitter said he has been soliciting information on turbines from various sources including Cape Wind, a Cape Cod, Mass., project that received the first federal leases last year to build an offshore wind farm.
"We've been reviewing this since 2002. I'm looking at any information I can get my hands on," Slavitter said.
The company plans to use directional drilling to build a narrow 6-foot-deep trench on the ocean floor to stretch its utility cable from the turbines to the beach.
The Corps solicited public comment but received just two responses: one from a nonprofit group that wanted the agency's assurances it would review the environmental impacts of the project and another from an Atlantic City resident, Slavitter said.
"We got a call from a nice old lady concerned that the directional drilling under Tennessee Avenue would shake her house to the ground," Slavitter said.
Slavitter said he assured the resident that any drilling to lay the cable would have no discernible impact on nearby homes or businesses on the island.
Fishermen's Energy still has not picked a turbine manufacturer for its project, Jackson said.
Construction is expected to begin in 2012.