A law signed Thursday by Gov. Christie pushed New Jersey a big step forward in the race to become the first state to erect offshore wind turbines.

Legislators said the action could bring hundreds of green-energy jobs to Paulsboro, which they hope will become a hub of turbine manufacturing.

Christie hopes to secure the title of first in the nation to attract developers and manufacturers associated with wind power.

The law applies the same tool that helped the state become second, behind California, in solar-power.

Offshore wind developers will earn credits for the megawatt hours they produce. Power suppliers in the state are required to buy a certain number of credits - enough to support 1,100 megawatts of wind-power generation - to satisfy state renewable-energy requirements. The guaranteed revenue from the credits should help developers secure financing for their projects.

Christie signed the bill in Paulsboro, on the Delaware River, where work is under way to convert a former chemical plant and oil terminal, vacant since the mid-1990s, into a cargo port. The port could become the assembly point for wind-turbine components imported from Europe and ultimately a location for turbine-makers looking for a U.S. base.

The bill provides $100 million in tax credits to companies that build and maintain turbines.

"This is going to set New Jersey up to be a manufacturing center in addition to a port center, in addition to a place that is going to have the first wind project off our shore," Christie said.

It is unlikely the state could attract a manufacturer without a boom in U.S. offshore wind development. But the assembly and maintenance of the massive turbines alone could be a big benefit for Paulsboro.

"Think of something taller than [the length of] a football field . . . coming out of the water," said Robert Frick, an account manager with GE Energy. "That's big steel. That's heavy industry."

Four projects have been proposed in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey. The nearest to fruition is a plan from Fishermen's Energy to produce between 20 and 24 megawatts with six turbines in state waters off Atlantic City.

Daniel Cohen, president of Fishermen's Energy, said he hoped to build the pilot project next year, though that depends on the state's finalizing permits and setting a price for the credits this fall. Even if work is delayed until 2012, he said, New Jersey will be the industry leader in the United States.

Cohen's company has a preliminary agreement with managers of the port to site turbine assembly there.

The cost of the offshore credits will be passed on to ratepayers. The state has made no estimates about what that cost will be.

The Board of Public Utilities has six months to set the rules for pricing credits, and is responsible for ensuring that the projects do not place an unreasonable burden on ratepayers.