New Jersey National Guard To Guard 6 Gigawatts Of Offshore Wind

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Fossil energy stakeholders smelled blood in the water last year when they helped mobilize local residents to oppose offshore wind development along the coast of New Jersey. Well, that was then. Now the Garden State is back on track with its long-term goal of 11 gigawatts by 2040. The question is how to ferry the clean power ashore, and a new transmission venture leverages the New Jersey National Guard to help with the first part of the plan.

Cluttered Jersey Shore Makes Way For Offshore Wind, Thanks To National Guard

Finding room for new energy infrastructure along the crowded, cluttered, overdeveloped oceanfront of New Jersey is a tough row to hoe, but one key site holds some promise. That is the 168-acre National Guard Training Center, located in the coastal community of Sea Girt, in Monmouth County.

The site’s use as a National Guard facility dates back to 1885. The State of New Jersey initially leased the land from the Sea Girt Land Improvement Company, then purchased it two years later. The tightly packed acreage currently houses the New Jersey National Guard’s 254th Regional Training Institute along with the Medical Command, Recruiting and Retention Command, 63rd Army Band, and the Youth Challenge Academy. Also located there are the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey and the 154th Water Purification Company, which is responsible for procuring local, potable water in bulk during emergencies.

In addition, the State Police, Department of Corrections, Division of Criminal Justice, and Juvenile Justice Commission use the post for training and education.

If you’re wondering how the National Guard made room for new offshore wind infrastructure at the Training Center, that’s a good question. Ecosystems management plans for the facility could also pose some challenges. Nevertheless, in 2022, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities tapped the sprawling US energy firm FirstEnergy Corp. to hook up the state’s offshore turbines to the power grid through its subsidiary Jersey Central Power & Light, using the Training Center as a landing point.

No New Greenfields For New Offshore Wind Landing Site

The proposal was submitted jointly by JCP&L and a new company called Mid-Atlantic Offshore Development, formed by Shell New Energies US and EDF Renewables North America.

As described by FirstEnergy, the JCP&L proposal beat out 80 competing submissions from 13 other transmission developers, based on its attention to timelines, scale-up, and cost efficiencies. New Jersey’s offshore wind transmission plan calls for a 2035 goal of 7.5 gigawatts, ramping up to 11 gigawatts by 2040.

FirstEnergy did not mention the National Guard Training Center by name in its press release, but it did note that the JCP&L proposal “protects communities and the environment by utilizing existing rights of way with no greenfield development.”

“In addition, the use of a single transmission corridor to bring the electricity onshore will reduce environmental impacts and community disruption,” First Energy added.

Next Steps For The New Jersey Offshore Wind Industry

Landing 7.5 gigawatts worth of wind power on a point at the Jersey Shore is just the first step. The next challenge is to connect it to the statewide grid. Last week, the Transmission branch of the sprawling New York utility Consolidated Edison submitted a joint proposal with the Ventures branch of the UK’s National Grid, taking up the challenge.

Under the name of Garden State Energy Path, the joint proposal involves delivering about 6 gigawatts from the Training Center a dozen or so miles inland, to connect with PJM wholesale electricity markets at the Larrabee Tri-Collector Station in Howell Township. PJM is the organization responsible for managing a regional grid that covers part or all of 13 states, including New Jersey, plus Washington, DC.

“The project will be underground, allowing the cables to be protected from storms and other extreme weather that can cause customer outages,” Con Edison explained in a press release dated April 4.

“The project consists of “pre-build infrastructure” that will house the cables carrying electricity generated by four wind projects to the grid,” Con Edison added. If all goes according to plan, the new transmission line will be ready for use by 2029.

What Is Pre-Build Infrastructure?

If you caught that thing about “pre-build infrastructure,” that is a thing. The President of National Grid Ventures, Will Hazelip, emphasized the pre-build angle in a press statement. “Pre-build infrastructure is a smart and coordinated approach to transmission for offshore wind, reducing the need to separately construct transmission infrastructure for each offshore wind project,” he said.

Con Edison Transmission President Stuart Nachmias added his two cents to the pre-build theme, explaining that the Garden State Energy Path “will enable the grid to accommodate new sources of renewable energy and handle increased demand as customers transition away from fossil fuels.”

The pre-build, or Prebuild as the Board of Public Utilities calls it, refers to an integrated construction plan for installing duct banks, cable vaults, and other infrastructure along the route from the Training Center to the Larrabee Station. Instead of building the infrastructure piecemeal for each wind farm, the winning Prebuild proposal must be sufficient to accommodate the output from up to four offshore farms, with an initial goal of enabling 3,742 megawatts towards the 7,500-megawatt goal by 2035.

New Jersey Offshore Wind Industry Comes Roaring Back

New Jersey has yet to get any wind turbines in the water despite years of trying, dating back to the Obama administration. It didn’t help that then-Governor Chris Christie was among those reportedly contributing to the stallout. Against that backdrop, the idea of pre-building onshore transmission infrastructure for yet-to-materialize offshore wind farms seems a bit of a reach, especially after the leading wind developer Ørsted abruptly canceled two New Jersey offshore projects just last fall.

Wind energy foes took credit for the wind project cancellations, though Ørsted cited the usual suspects — inflation, supply chain woes, and a shortage of work vessels — behind the decision.

What a difference a year makes. New Jersey’s current, pro-wind governor, Phil Murphy, vowed to keep fighting for the clean kilowatts, and all that hard work is beginning to pay off.

On January 24, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities announced the approval of Leading Light Wind’s 2400-megawatt offshore wind proposal, along with Attentive Energy Two’s 1,342-megawatt proposal.

“Combined, the projects will bring $6.8 billion in economic benefits to New Jersey and provide enough domestically produced energy to power 1.8 million homes,” BPU explained.

BPU also appears to be taking proactive steps to clap back at unproven claims of harm to whale populations circulated by offshore wind foes. NOAA and other wildlife observers attribute most human-related whale deaths to boat strikes and fishing gear entanglements, such as one recent case of a whale caught in gear linked to lobster fishing grounds in Maine.

“In addition to creating economic benefits and jobs, the awarded projects have also committed to provide support for environmental and fisheries research, monitoring, and conservation efforts in an amount totaling over $60 million,” BPU explained.

BPU is already planning another round of offshore wind solicitations for early 2025, which should more than make up for the disappointment of last year, and then some.

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Image (cropped): The New Jersey offshore wind industry is coming back from a setback in 2023 (courtesy of NJ DEP).


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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