NJ regulators reject offshore wind project

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has voted against extending ratepayer subsidies to an offshore wind project proposed by developer Fishermen's Energy, challenging the project's financial viability.

The New Jersey coast near Atlantic City, seen from above.

Back in 2011, Fishermen's Energy proposed a 25-megawatt offshore wind pilot project to be located off Atlantic City.  The developer applied to the Board of Public Utilities for ratepayer support under New Jersey's Offshore Wind Economic Development Act of 2010.  That law directed the Board of Public Utilities to develop a program to require utilities to source a percentage of the electricity they sell in New Jersey from one or more qualified offshore wind projects.  To track energy from offshore wind, the law envisioned the creation of offshore renewable energy certificates, or ORECs, that could be sold by qualified offshore wind projects to the load-serving utilities.  The concept was that given the relatively high costs and uncertainty of offshore wind, no project could be financed or built without a steady revenue stream from OREC sales.

But the New Jersey project appeared to stall before the Board.  Charged with creating the OREC program and evaluating whether the Fishermen's Energy project could qualify to produce ORECs, the Board was faced with serious technical tasks.  As the regulatory process for the Fishermen's Energy project lengthened -- ultimately stretching to over 1,000 days -- Board staff raised concerns over the financial viability of the project, as well as over the impact of the requested subsidy to ratepayer costs.  Despite trimming the project's estimated costs to $188 million, these concerns remained, leading Board staff to recommend denial of Fishermen's Energy's request for OREC certification.
Yesterday, the Board of Public Utilities rejected Fishermen’s Energy’s proposal by a unanimous 4-0 decision.  While the Board's formal written order has not yet been released, expect it to explain the Board's reasoning in more detail when it surfaces next week.  In the meantime, Fishermen’s Energy is undoubtedly considering its options, which may include dropping the project, appealing the Board's rejection, or finding alternative ways to de-risk and finance the project.

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