The Department of the Interior has just announced that a total of 344,000 acres off the coast of New Jersey will be leased out for offshore wind energy development. That’s a huge deal in terms of job creation for the state, but noticeably absent from Interior’s press release was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Hey, how do you leave a state’s governor out of great news like that? By way of comparison, the high-profile Cape Wind project in Massachusetts will only cover about 15,360 acres when it begins construction, and it’s already being touted as an economic engine for the state.
Good News, Bad News
Before we get to the topic at hand, let’s note that Friday’s New Jersey offshore wind energy announcement kinda sorta deflected some attention away from another offshore energy announcement for Atlantic Coast states.
That would be the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s go-ahead for the oil and gas industry to conduct seismic testing off parts of the Atlantic coast, mainly Virginia and the Carolinas.
The prospect of oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast was most likely met with horror in some quarters, but we’re going to go out on a limb and predict that this is much ado about nothing. For one thing, the entrenched coastal tourist and residential real estate stakeholders in the affected states pack a lot of muscle.
In addition, when you add up the spectacular growth of the US onshore wind energy industry with the booming solar market and the potential for both geothermal and offshore wind energy, it becomes clear that the strongest prospect for future growth in US oil and gas is the export market.
In other words, Atlantic Coast communities would be asked to bear all of the risks of offshore oil and gas development, without necessarily sharing in all of the benefits.
So…not gonna happen.
3,400 MW Of Offshore Wind Energy For New Jersey
The newly announced New Jersey Wind Energy Area consists of two parcels about seven nautical miles (about eight land miles) out from Atlantic City.
The figure of 3,400 MW is a best-case scenario developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which recommended the two-parcel division as the most efficient. Initial options of up to five parcels for offshore wind energy development had been considered.
The number was narrowed down to two after taking into consideration water depth as well as coastal access for cables and for vessels used in construction and servicing.
A key factor at play was balancing cable costs with spacing for the wind turbines. Wider spacing cuts down on the loss of efficiency that occurs when the wake from one wind turbine interacts with another turbine. However, the longer distances involve more cable, resulting in higher costs.
Now that the lease areas have been defined, the next step will occur on July 21, when the Proposed Sale Notice will be published in the Federal Register. That will touch off a 60-day public comment period ending on September 19, which also doubles as the deadline for offshore wind developers to qualify for participating in the lease sale.
Sleeping US Offshore Wind Giant Wakes Up…
For those of you new to the topic, the US has been lagging far behind in the global offshore wind energy race, but that was then.
Aside from the New Jersey Wind Energy Area, there are now five active, commercial wind energy lease areas off the Atlantic Coast. That includes the much-delayed Cape Wind offshore wind farm in Massachusetts, which has been battling — and winning — legal challenges spearheaded by William Koch.
Once the New Jersey Wind Energy Area is leased out, the state will join Massachusetts as well as Delaware, Rhode Island, and Virginia in the US offshore wind club.
New Jersey may be last to join this group, but the state already has a good head start in the form of Fisherman’s Energy. The company was recently tapped to receive $47 million in Energy Department funding to develop its “twisted jacket” foundation for wider application, as part of an industry wide cost-cutting initiative.
Maryland is next on the Energy Department’s list, and another area off the Massachusetts coast will also be up for auction next year.
The active states all signed on to the Atlantic Coast Wind Energy Consortium back in 2010, in order to facilitate and coordinate offshore wind energy development throughout the region.
In all, ten states signed up: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Notably absent are any states south of North Carolina.
That leads us back around to Governor Christie. We have no idea why he didn’t get a quote in DOI’s press release. Maybe he wasn’t invited. However, the missed opportunity to show some enthusiasm for a new job-creating industry for the state fits in with the Governor’s track record on offshore wind development (as in, not good).
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