A proposal to build an offshore wind farm about three miles east of Atlantic City could be back in the race to become the nation's first.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the New Jersey project would receive up to $47 million in funding over the next four years - a quarter of the $188 million plan.
Financial feasibility had been the main issue when, in March, the state Board of Public Utilities rejected the plan. Fishermen's Energy asked for a reconsideration, which was rejected in late April. Even with all its state and federal permits in place, the project could go no further.
Now, officials of Fishermen's Energy, a group of fishermen who decided to harvest energy as well as fish, say they feel certain that the BPU will reconsider and allow them to proceed.
Dan Cohen, chairman and founder of Fishermen's, called the grant "an affirmation of the hard work and good planning over the last seven years" by his team.
Fishermen's CEO, Chris Weissman, said he felt confident that the BPU "will recognize the vetting" of the project by the federal government.
A BPU spokesman said he would not speculate because Fishermen's has appealed the decision in court. "I cannot comment on matters pending in court," said J. Gregory Reinert, communications director.
The Energy Department awarded similar amounts to wind farm projects in Oregon and Virginia.
The Fishermen's Energy plan for five turbines of five megawatts each could power the equivalent of at least several thousand homes. The plan "will utilize an innovative, U.S.-developed" foundation "that is simpler and less expensive to manufacture and install" than traditional offshore turbine foundations, according to the Department of Energy.
"Offshore wind offers a large, untapped energy resource for the United States that can create thousands of manufacturing, construction, and supply-chain jobs across the country, and drive billions of dollars in local economic investment," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
The three projects are expected to be completed by 2017, the department said. Fishermen's Energy said it plans to start construction onshore in 2015 and finish the project in 2016.
Environmental groups cheered the grant, and used it as opportunity to get in a few jabs at the BPU.
The project's finances worked before the grant and work even better now, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. The project "passed the financial test, but not Gov. Christie's political test," he said.
"The irony is now, we have the federal money without New Jersey's BPU approval," said Tittel. "This would be funny if it wasn't so sad."
Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, called the federal grant "a huge vote of confidence."
Fishermen's Energy's case, he said, "just got a whole lot stronger."