Offshore wind projects that would curb pollution and create jobs are making headway all along the East Coast, but more should be done to advance the fledgling industry, according to a report released Wednesday by clean-energy advocates.
The report - prepared by the National Wildlife Federation and cosponsored by Environment New Jersey and more than 35 other organizations - called for an accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. That goal could be achieved, it said, by easing the long approval process for offshore wind development, investing more in the industry, and targeting high-priority zones off the coast for quicker permits.
Four developers are proposing offshore wind projects in New Jersey. In South Jersey, Fishermen's Energy is looking to build a wind farm off Atlantic City; Garden State Offshore Energy has proposed turbines off Atlantic and Cape May Counties.
Offshore wind proposals in the works from Maine to Georgia would create enough energy to power at least 1.4 million homes a year, the report found. If fully tapped, the Jersey Shore's potential for offshore wind could power every home in the state, Matt Elliott, an advocate at Environment New Jersey, said during a Trenton news conference.
Critics, including some state lawmakers, have raised concerns that costly offshore wind developments would raise utility bills. A May report by the conservative Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis in Washington predicted consumers would see spikes under requirements that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources such as offshore wind.
The United States has yet to make offshore wind a reality, advocates lamented Wednesday, while China and European countries are already using the technology.
"We need a buffet table of clean-energy technologies," said Curtis Fisher, a regional executive director at the National Wildlife Foundation. "Offshore wind should be one of them."
Federal and state leaders have taken steps to bolster the industry.
President Obama's administration announced last week that it would simplify regulations for offshore wind developers through a "Smart From the Start" program. The initiative would shorten the permit process and identify wind-energy areas for Atlantic states, making leases there available by 2011 or 2012. New Jersey would be a priority.
The Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, signed in August by Gov. Christie, would establish a renewable-energy-certificate program to require that a percentage of kilowatt hours sold in the state come from offshore wind energy. That would guarantee a market for wind projects, which require a costly up-front investment.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is working to draft rules for the program by the February deadline. The new law also would offer tax credits from $50 million to $100 million for wind-technology manufacturers.
Those measures address some of the obstacles to offshore wind identified in the report, which noted high up-front costs and a lack of long-term revenue.
The report touted the need for improved regulations, noting statements by the U.S. Department of Energy that the uncertain permit process discouraged investment.
Michele Siekerka, assistant commissioner for economic growth and green energy at the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday that offshore wind was a priority for the Christie administration and would create well-paying jobs and bring back manufacturing.
But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, raised doubts about the Christie administration's commitment to the industry, noting the governor has voiced skepticism that humans cause global warming.
"The purpose of windmills," Tittel said, "is to lower our carbon footprint and to deal with climate change."
The state spending plan passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed into law in June by Christie, a Republican, diverted $400 million from funds set aside for the environment and clean energy to help offset a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.
The report identified New Jersey as one of the East Coast states with offshore wind projects that were advancing beyond initial stages. Other states are Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Delaware.
New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have projects in earlier phases, while Florida, the report found, has none on the drawing board.