After years of being sidelined by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, wind farm developers are dusting off plans for massive offshore turbines that may someday generate more electricity than a nuclear reactor.
Christie, a Republican whose term ends in January, effectively blocked wind farms off his state’s coast by never fully implementing a program that would subsidize the projects. Both of the leading candidates to replace him have pledged support for the industry, opening the door for developers to push toward construction.
The move presents a potentially rich market for offshore wind. New Jersey is the most densely populated U.S. state, and its power prices are among the highest in the nation. It’s also geographically positioned midway between offshore wind development sites in New England and the Southeast, making the state a potential hub for ferrying supplies to build projects in other states.
“New Jersey has all the classic elements for offshore wind to work,” said Paul Rich, director of project development for US Wind, one of two developers with federal leases to build off New Jersey. “The time is right, and the market is ripe.”
US Wind, a unit of the Italian developer Renexia, is among dozens of companies gathering in New York this week at the American Wind Energy Association Offshore Windpower conference, including Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy SA, Norway’s Statoil ASA and Dong Energy AS. While it’s thrived in Europe, offshore wind has lagged in the U.S. as policy makers have been reluctant to support subsidies to offset the high costs of building miles from shore.
That’s beginning to change as competition among developers in the North Sea has driven down costs. The first U.S. offshore wind farm — a 30-megawatt installation off Rhode Island developed by Deepwater Wind — began operations in December. Statoil, Dong, US Wind, Deepwater and others are pushing ahead with additional projects off the coasts of New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and elsewhere.
New Jersey may soon be on that list. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who leads by 15 points in polls, is calling for 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind generation by 2030. That’s enough to power 1.5 million homes. His Republican rival, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, has also pledged to support the industry, though has offered fewer specifics.
“Offshore wind is going to fare very well in the next administration almost regardless of which candidate gets elected,” said former New Jersey governor James Florio, a Democrat who has long championed clean energy.
Dong and US Wind are the companies positioned to benefit most. Both have federal leases to develop a 344,000-acre area in the Atlantic Ocean, about 8 miles (11 kilometers) southeast of Atlantic City. There’s enough room for about 3.4 gigawatts of turbines. A third company, Fishermen’s Energy, proposed using a nearby site in state waters for a project that the members of New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities have rejected three times.