Open bidding on government contracts and projects is long-established as the method fairest for companies and most cost-effective for New Jersey residents who must pay the bills. Special no-bid sweetheart deals sometimes serve interests of political party machines and the firms that support them.
When Gov. Phil Murphy in February ordered the implementation of the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act of 2010, he started a process that requires the state Board of Public Utilities to solicit bids to build and operate fields of wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean to soon generate 1,100 megawatts of power annually and 3,500 megawatts by 2030.
The world’s major wind energy corporations have been preparing for this opportunity for years, leasing large tracts of ocean from the federal government for the placement of their turbines where the winds are strongest and most reliable.
The U.S. branch of the biggest such company, Orsted North America, next month will open an office in Atlantic City to work toward development of its planned Ocean Wind project 10 miles off the city. The president of Orsted N.A. says that project alone could generate 3,000 megawatts, enough for the electricity needs of 1.5 million homes.
Some wind farms in Europe, where Denmark-based Orsted has built and operates more than 20, can produce power more cheaply than a new natural gas-fired plant. Similar economies of scale are possible eventually for the budding U.S. offshore wind industry. Massachusetts is expected this month to announce bids for wind farms there.
But wind farms are not all equal. One is getting a special deal from politicians and won’t have to go through the bidding process or even demonstrate that it will produce power cost-effectively.
The Fishermen’s Energy Offshore Wind Project, just six turbines generating 24 megawatts 3 miles off Atlantic City, is getting its own set of rules in a bipartisan bill that passed both branches of the Legislature last week.
If Murphy signs the bill into law, it will require the BPU to accept the Fishermen’s Energy application to build the small wind farm and order the BPU to approve the project regardless of how much residential and business customers will have to pay for its electricity. That’s important because the BPU already has twice rejected the project because the power it generates would cost too much.
The Fishermen’s Energy project, which the firm would sell to a French company once its deal with the state is concluded, is tiny, so ratepayers won’t have to buy much electricity at its excessive price.
But the project not only lacks a good rationale itself, it can only distract from the important effort to develop offshore wind on the scale needed to realize its clean-energy benefits while keeping control of costs to state residents and businesses.
Let Fishermen’s Energy and its potential French buyer compete to create the offshore wind projects New Jersey needs like all other companies. That’s the path of good government.