Last week, MMS announced they would be issuing leases to the three proposed wind farm developers so that they could begin the process of installing their meteorological towers. Bluewater Wind NJ Energy, Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey, and Deepwater Wind will all be placing met towers off the coast of NJ. These towers are a necessary first step to the eventual development of shore wind. Once the met towers are in place, they will be recording data for at least 12 months or mid to late 2010.
Back in October 2008 the State issued its Energy Master Plan. The Plan sets a goal of having 1000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2012. I have always thought that time table was very aggressive and was unlikely to occur. Assuming the developers do not begin the NEPA process at the same time as they collect the data from the met towers, that process will begin late 2010 or early 2011. The NEPA process of obtaining information, analyzing the information, etc will take a significant period of time. For example, the Cape Wind project, which began around 2001, took almost three years from the very beginning of the NEPA process to the issuance of the draft EIS. It then took another four+ for MMS to issue its final EIS on the project.
Now, a lot has changed from the time Cape Wind started their project. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed. The State of New Jersey has convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Wind; evaluated the issues and set forth its recommendations. MMS has interim rules for renewable energy developed on the OCS. The nation as a whole has hopefully progressed towards acceptance of wind generation. (I question how far we have progressed on this score). Also, the State is in the process of doing performing their own biological studies off the coast of NJ. All of these things may help move the process along so that the planning of these projects is not a decade long process. The NJ developers will have a framework to follow that Cape Wind did not.
Hopefully, the fact that there is a legal framework in place will shorten the legal wrangling over the project. I do believe that there will be many lawsuits challenging these projects. Local, county and some legislators have expressed concern over off shore wind development. Local property owners will certainly band together to challenge these projects. There may also be an environmental group or two who may challenge the projects in Court.
In short I believe after the NEPA process has been engaged and the lawsuits resolved one or more of the proposed wind projects will go forward. What I am fairly certain of is that no project will be in the water and generating electricity by the end of 2012. The State will have to adjust their energy master plan to account for the revised time table.