The U.S. Department of Energy withdrew its $47 million grant commitment to Fishermen’s Energy LLC, after the stalled New Jersey offshore wind energy project passed a deadline to find a power purchaser.
The six-turbine, 24 MW project, planned for state waters off Atlantic City, once appeared to be in line as an early East Coast demonstration of a nascent U.S. offshore wind industry. But changing political fortunes and disputes with utility regulators have held the project back.
“Under the Energy Department’s award, Fishermen’s Energy must have secured a power offtake agreement by December 31 to be eligible for another round of funding,” the DOE said in a statement to the Associated Press. “The criteria were not met by that date, so we have initiated the close-out process for the project.”
Some $10.6 million of the $47 million DOE grant went toward planning and preparation for the site 2.8 miles of the beach. But in the meantime state regulators refused approvals that would clear the way for a power agreement, and Gov. Chris Christie vetoed an attempt by the state Legislature to push approvals ahead.
Fishermen’s Energy CEO Chris Wissemann told the AP the company would continue working with the DOE in search of a power purchaser, and look toward a new state administration in 2017.
The DOE grant — one of three for offshore wind projects — gave Fishermen’s Energy more resources to work on its design.
“Fishermen’s Energy Atlantic City Windfarm will demonstrate the use of a twisted jacket foundation that is easier to manufacture and install than traditional foundations, helping drive down the cost of energy produced by the offshore wind system,” according to a DOE summary of the wind projects.
Among other design features, foundations for the Siemens turbines to be built by Keystone Engineering would feature a newly designed access ladder that can be rotated 90 degrees, so crew service vessels can approach closely and allow maintenance workers to step off the side of the boats. A fender system would also protect workers from motion of the boat hull.
Gulf Island Fabrication, Houma, La., built a full-size mock-up of the ladder design for testing that began last summer.
“During operation, the Fishermen’s project will act as an at-sea laboratory to further our knowledge about offshore wind, investigate the interactions between turbines, test new control systems, and provide information about potential environmental impacts of offshore wind while reducing the levelized cost of energy from offshore wind,” according to the DOE summary.
Like Rhode Island, where Deepwater Wind LLC recently put its 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm online, New Jersey lawmakers had enthusiasm enough to pass the Offshore Wind Energy Development Act in 2010, which Christie signed amid expectations wind could bring manufacturing and jobs to the state.
But the administration’s enthusiasm waned, amid concerns over the cost of power from Fishermen’s Energy — and critics said, Christie’s ambition to obtain the Republican presidential nomination.
Even after winning the DOE grant, Fishermen’s Energy and its supporters during 2016 expressed little hope of a turnaround in state government before Christie leaves office in 2017. Advocates for renewable energy are setting their sights on the next administration.
“We may need a new governor on this one,” said James Whelan, the Democratic state senator for Atlantic City.