U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised to speed approvals for the nation's offshore wind farms in 2010, when he met with industry leaders in Atlantic City.
Since then, thousands of new windmills have been built in the United States -- enough to power almost 15 million homes.
But they're all spinning over land.
Every offshore wind farm proposed in New Jersey and the rest of the Atlantic seaboard remains grounded. The promises of new manufacturing jobs and a new energy industry have not materialized.
Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, said two projects off Nantucket Sound, Mass., and Block Island, R.I., are closest to breaking ground as the nation's first offshore windmills.
A third project sponsored by Fisherman's Energy, of Cape May, is nearing the start of construction, he said.
"We're on the verge of launching a big multibillion-dollar industry that will be located in New Jersey and along the East Coast," Lanard said.
The company was one of seven that received $4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to engineer and design demonstration projects. Fisherman's wants to build five turbines 2.8 miles off Tennessee Avenue in Atlantic City to generate about 25 megawatts, or enough to power about 20,000 homes.
The agency will pick three of these seven projects for investments of $47 million each for siting, construction and installation to get them up and running by 2017.
Breaking ground by the end of 2013 is not a condition of the grant. But the agency wants to see substantial progress in permitting and financing, Department of Energy spokeswoman Niketa Kumar said.
"The review will also evaluate technology development and economic feasibility, as well as the project's ability to lower the overall cost of energy from offshore wind power," she said.
Fisherman's Energy is awaiting its last state approvals, from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which has to decide whether the green benefits of offshore wind justify comparatively higher costs that could raise electric rates for consumers.
"We have permits in place. We have financing in place. The engineering is largely complete. All we are waiting for is the green light from the BPU. It's as close to shovel-ready as we can get," said Chris Wisseman, CEO of Fisherman's Energy.
The BPU hosted a meeting Thursday to discuss the second consideration: how to finance this and other projects through offshore renewable energy credits.
Like solar power, wind currently costs more per kilowatt hour than other kinds of energy. As a result, energy companies typically need extra incentive to buy it. The solution has been for the state to require utilities to buy renewable energy credits from alternative energy producers.
The state BPU has such a system in place for solar. None yet exists for wind. Atlantic City will not see its first offshore windmill until this system is in place, because wind companies need energy buyers in place before they build.
"If we have approvals by summer, the pilot project would be in the water by summer 2014," Wisseman said.
That's a big if.
A 2012 study by the BPU's consulting firm, Boston Pacific, concluded the capital costs for the five turbines exceeded the typical price of $4,500 per kilowatt. The actual costs estimated by Fisherman's Energy -- along with most other figures associated with the project -- have not been disclosed publicly for business competition reasons.
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