Offshore Wind Gains In Virginia, Stumbles In NJ

The past few days brought potentially good news for offshore wind power’s progress in the U.S. in one location, and what looks like bad news in another location.

The encouraging development was the announcement of a Sept. 4 lease auction for a parcel of around 112,800 acres offshore Virginia that could one day be home to 2,000 megawatts of wind power. This is the second competitive lease announced by the Obama administration – the first, for two parcels off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is scheduled to happen next week – and while there’s no guarantee that offshore wind power will soon arrive, the moves are a step in that direction.

To become reality, specific project proposals would have to gain financing (which means they would need power buyers) and go through environmental review as they’re built. But on the plus side, these tracts in the Atlantic have already survived a level of scrutiny.

For instance, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said the Virginia parcel “avoid(s) existing uses of the OCS offshore Virginia, including sensitive ecological habitat and shoals along the coast north of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, military training areas, marine vessel traffic, a dredge disposal site, and areas of concern specified by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility.”

Less heartening for offshore wind fans was the news that New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities had rejected an agreement between the developer and the state’s ratepayer watchdog that would set the price of $187 for renewable energy credits from the proposed five-turbine, 25-MW Fishermen’s Energy project 2.8 miles offshore from Atlantic City. According to NJ Spotlight, that’s above the $120 to $130 that electricity from solar in New Jersey is going for currently.

The impact of the BPU’s decision is a little fuzzy, but it seems certain to slow progress on the pilot project, which Fishermen’s has been aiming to begin building this year and operating next year. The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, a big backer of offshore wind development off the Jersey Coast, said in a statement that it was clear that the “BPU is trying to slow down or stop wind projects off our coast. It looks like they are deliberately trying to come up with ways to delay or sabotage this project and others.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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