Offshore wind could provide nearly as much electricity to New Jersey customers as nuclear, oil and natural gas do now, an environmental group said Tuesday.

Oceana, an ocean-conservation group, estimated that offshore wind has the potential to produce 92 percent of what nuclear, oil and coal provide now in New Jersey. Wind could meet half the energy demand along the East Coast, the group said.

Founded in 2001, Oceana is an international nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The group said offshore wind has the potential to generate 30 percent more electricity on the East Coast than new offshore oil or natural gas.

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“We wanted to show that you could get more energy for less money if you developed wind rather than developing oil and gas,” said Jackie Savitz, one of the authors of the report titled “Untapped Wealth.”

Three companies, including Cape May-based Fishermen’s Energy, plan to build windmills off the New Jersey coast. Fishermen’s Energy reserved immediate comment on the Oceana report.

Critics of offshore wind, including the Somers Point group Liberty and Prosperity, say offshore wind is a public boondoggle that will lead to higher bills for New Jersey electricity customers. The conservative group The Heritage Center for Data Analysis published a report this year suggesting that government policies giving preference to renewable energy — such as the policy passed this year in New Jersey guaranteeing buyers for wind power — would lead to higher utility bills.

Liberty and Prosperity founder Seth Grossman said offshore windmills are estimated to cost three times what onshore windmills cost.

“It makes no economic sense. If windmills are so effective why not build them in the meadows of New Jersey for a third of the cost,” he said.

Oceana estimated that offshore wind from Maine to Florida could generate 127 gigawatts of power. By comparison, the United States overall produces 1,048 gigawatts per year of electricity.

The five windmills at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority have a total generating capacity of 8.5 megawatts. Newer wind turbines generate about 2.5 megawatts. By this math, East Coast waters would have to host about 50,800 windmills to produce 127 gigawatts.

But more efficient turbines are being development that would generate 5 megawatts or more each.

Oceana said New Jersey ranks fourth behind Delaware, Massachusetts and North Carolina in potential for wind supplanting other forms of energy on the East Coast.

New Jersey’s environmental groups have endorsed offshore wind as an alternative to new nuclear, oil or coal plants.

“We’ve been saying that for some time: we have the Saudi Arabia of wind off our coast,” said Jeff Tittel, spokesman for the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. “New Jersey in the near future could get 20 to 25 percent of its energy needs from offshore wind and up to 50 percent in the long term.”

Nuclear power is king in New Jersey, meeting half the state’s energy needs. And with PSEG planning a fifth nuclear plant in Salem County, the industry’s domination of the market is unlikely to be challenged by wind anytime soon.

President Barack Obama earlier this year lifted a ban on offshore drilling in the Mid-Atlantic stretching to the mouth of the Delaware Bay. But offshore drilling became vastly unpopular this year in the wake of the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

New Jersey’s congressional delegation, Gov. Chris Christie and state lawmakers largely oppose allowing offshore drilling for fear a spill could harm the state’s lucrative tourism industry. Lawmakers want to spur new manufacturing in Paulsboro, Gloucester County, to equip the new wind farms.

Offshore wind is near population centers, where energy demand is highest. Oceana said the new industry could boost manufacturing in the United States, with between 133,000 and 212,000 new jobs, or more than three times as many as created by offshore oil or natural gas.

Oceana sees offshore wind as the lesser of many evils when it comes to energy generation, Savitz said.

“It’s tempting to say, ‘Nothing in my ocean.’ But what we see happening with climate change requires us to think about how the ocean can be part of the solution,” she said. “The bottom line is the kinds of impacts we can expect from climate change so heavily outweigh the potential impacts of offshore wind that we think it’s necessary to move in that direction.”

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