By Jeff Hurvitz
When you look to the horizon, to the edge of the visible ocean from any beach along Absecon Island between Atlantic City and Longport, the view is unfettered. In the next couple of years, some virtually indiscernible figures may dot that natural canvas. Those faint specks would do little to impede the sense of wonderment one gets from an oceanic daydream but would go a long way toward realizing the dream of increasing energy efficiency in this region.
Three business entities are exploring the feasibility of placing windmills between three and 16 miles from the Atlantic or Cape May County coastline. A grant of up to $19 million in pilot-project funding from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is acting as an inducement. It is a valid, and timely, expenditure.
Savings for consumers have been very meaningful at the area's first such project, albeit a terrestrial one immediately west of Atlantic City at the city's sewage-treatment plant. The first year of operation, 2006, saved users in Atlantic County about $426,000, according to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, the co-originator of that wastewater-treatment facility. In 2007, the savings increased to $515,000.
The concept behind the placement of these turbine towers is quite simple: Go where the wind is greatest and space is available with little conflict from the very homeowners whose bank accounts would benefit from such an existence.
Offshore placement is still largely untested in this country, with obstacles including ocean depths and the resulting higher construction costs.
Along the Pacific coast, for example, the rapid drop-off of the continental shelf creates a construction nightmare. Along our ocean coast, the depths are much more gradual and more conducive to development.
Of the three concerns vying for building rights, two - Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., which owns PSE&G, and Bluewater Wind L.L.C. - ought to be considered because of their stated intent to drop anchor 15 to 16 miles offshore. The third, Fishermen's Energy of New Jersey L.L.C., would build some turbines as close as three miles off Atlantic City, with the remainder six or seven miles away.
These proposed windmill farms would entail between 74 to 116 turbine towers. They would rise as high as 256 feet above the sea, in contrast to the present Atlantic County towers, which rise 380 feet. A base of about 90 feet would be needed to anchor them into the ocean floor.
Representatives from environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club of New Jersey and Environment New Jersey, a clean-energy advocate, have voiced support for the proposals. There seems to be no downside to this development.
By themselves, windmills will not solve our energy problems. But they do create another stir in the pot of energy solutions, and a valuable addition to the mix needed for our energy demanding consumption.