The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has set a Nov. 9 date to auction offshore wind energy lease areas totaling nearly 344,000 acres off New Jersey, and the agency says it has qualified 13 companies as potential bidders.

The leases would start about seven miles off the beach, and span about 70 miles between Barnegat Inlet on New Jersey’s mid-coast south to the tip of the state at Cape May09.23.15 NJWindleasesBOEM proposed lease area.. It’s an area that was identified early as a prime ground for offshore wind early in the Obama administration’s push to promote renewables as part of the offshore energy mix.

At the time, the concept had strong support from New Jersey state government, when in 2010 Gov. Chris Christie signed the state’s Offshore Wind Economic Development Act to promote developing the industry, with a goal of achieving 1,100 megawatts of power.

But that commitment has cooled, with the state’s public utility regulators repeatedly missing deadlines for regulations to implement the law. Most critically, the state Board of Public Utilities has yet to implement a system for Off-Shore Renewable Energy Credits that must be obtained for federal waters projects to move forward.

This summer BPU officials said they would hire an independent consultant to assist with OREC rules. Wind energy boosters said they hope the BOEM lease sale will push New Jersey to prepare. BOEM rules for this upcoming sale specify that successful bidders must have a “power purchase agreement or New Jersey Offshore Renewable Energy Certificate award.”

Environmental activists have accused the state of backtracking for political reasons tied to Christie’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination, to make him more appealing to a GOP base and donors skeptical of government subsidies for wind energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy this year approved a five-turbine demonstration project in state waters off Atlantic City, N.J. for $47 million in federal support. But that plan by the Fishermen’s Energy group was rejected by state regulators, who contend the turbines’ power would be too expensive for ratepayers. Fishermen’s Energy is challenging that decision and the numbers behind it in court.

While the Fishermen’s Energy group includes several seafood businesses and fishing companies – and is one of those qualified for the federal waters lease – the offshore bidding is sure to draw opposition from other commercial fishermen, who worry about wind project impacts on habitat and their ability to fish in areas with towers and subsea cables.

There will be lots of attention from the workboat industry too. The busy north-south separation zone from the port of New York and New Jersey carries coastwise ship and barge traffic nearby.

To date BOEM has awarded nine commercial offshore wind leases, including seven through the competitive lease sale process it will use for the New Jersey leases. Two are in waters off Rhode Island-Massachusetts, another two off Massachusetts, two off Maryland and one off Virginia. Some $14.5 million in bids obtained more than 700,000 leased acres. In July, Deepwater Wind began work on its $225 million, 30-megawatt Rhode Island wind project off Block Island. The project was moved along with strong political support from the state’s Democratic leadership, and Blount Boats, Warren, Rhode Island, is working on the first crew boat for the U.S. wind industry.