The U.S. Department of Energy promised up to $47 million Wednesday to a Chinese-backed windmill project that has already been rejected twice by New Jersey regulators.
Fishermen's Energy says it hopes the federal funds will convince New Jersey to finally approve its plan to put five windmills about three miles off the coast of Atlantic City.
The energy department selected Fishermen's Energy as one of three windmill projects it says will lower costs, increase performance and overcome hurdles to installing more utility-scale turbines in American waters.
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“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.
But his announcement did not mention that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has twice rejected the proposal, most recently in a vote last month. The board determined that a Chinese company that would own 70 percent of the project did not demonstrate financial integrity.
The board said Xiangtan Electric Manufacturing Group did not use American accounting standards in asserting its financial strength, and had not shown it can get the necessary federal subsidies. The board said last month the $188 million project would be too risky for electric ratepayers.
The energy department said later Wednesday that each of the projects it approved for funding must meet several benchmarks within the next year, including receiving all necessary approvals.
Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the New Jersey utilities board, declined comment Wednesday, noting that Fishermen's Energy is appealing the project's denial in court.
Rhonda Jackson, a Fishermen's Energy spokeswoman, said the project has all the approvals it needs aside from a certificate from New Jersey.
“Fishermen's is confident that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will recognize the vetting by the DOE of the project, and will now engage with Fishermen's to finalize our ... application so the project can proceed expeditiously,” said Chris Wissemann, the company's CEO.
Fishermen's Energy says it is ready to start work, and can have the project operational by 2016.
Environmental groups shared the company's optimism.
“The irony is now we have the federal money without New Jersey's BPU approval,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This would be funny if it wasn't so sad.”
Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said the board's decision to reject the project was based on the uncertainty of federal grants coming through.
“Despite the efforts of the BPU, the strengths of this pilot off-shore wind project won out,” he said.