Fisherman's Energy responded with an economic-impact analysis by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University that found the project provided net economic benefits of more than $1 billion.
In negotiations with the board, Fisherman's Energy in September agreed on certain protections for electric customers, such as ensuring rate impacts no higher than a similar project in Rhode Island, financial security to prevent the abandonment of the turbines if the project fails and assumption of all risk for any cost overruns.
Wisseman said its small project would show investors that offshore wind is feasible in New Jersey, setting the stage for much bigger "utility-scale" projects with hundreds of turbines.
"The bankers we have worked with are very interested in seeing a demonstration project first," he said. "They want to do all the checks and balances of getting the revenue to show it works on a small scale before they do a billion-dollar project."
At least seven states are trying to harness the Atlantic's offshore wind, but the process of permitting and financing has been difficult for all.
Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, Delaware and New Jersey have projects in various stages of permitting or development.
Citing the "monumental challenges in developing a new domestic industry," NRG Bluewater Wind last year put on hold its plan for 150 turbines off Rehoboth, Del. In the meantime, the company in October secured federal leases for the project, which could power 100,000 homes. The wind farm was sited to avoid the Delaware Bay, a major shipping lane to Camden and Philadelphia.
The U.S. Department of the Interior will accept bids this year for leases to build wind farms on the Outer Continental Shelf off Virginia and Rhode Island with the potential to power 1.4 million homes.
Maine's Public Utilities Commission in February approved Norwegian energy firm Statoil's four-turbine project 12 miles offshore south of Bar Harbor. That project had been opposed by the state's governor, who raised concerns that the project would lead to higher electric bills.
The offshore-wind industry's inertia caught the attention in January of the New Jersey Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, which met to find out why wind was lagging.
Lawmakers are eager to establish a new national industry in the Garden State, similar to what happened with the auto industry in Detroit, steel in Pittsburgh or the pharmaceutical industry in New Jersey.
If offshore wind on the Atlantic Coast is inevitable, New Jersey should be ready to capitalize on its manufacturing and development potential, said state Sen. Jim Whelan, who testified at the Senate hearing.
"It's coming here. I want New Jersey to be at the forefront. What do we need to do today to jump-start this industry?" said Whelan, D-Atlantic.
The wind-trade group's Lanard said the small Atlantic City project offers untold benefits for the broader industry in its successes and, perhaps more importantly, its failures.
"Lessons learned will be invaluable for the state, the regulators and the BPU to understand how to be more efficient and what unanticipated problems arose that can be avoided in the next round," he said. "We saw this in Europe. Every big project started with a demonstration project."
Lanard said decisions this year could have lasting consequences for the nascent industry.
"You don't grow an industry one small project at a time. You need a critical mass of development to get the ports developed and get the work force trained," he said. "New Jersey controls its own fate now."
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