16 august 2018

Offshore wind: NJ sets stage to add clean energy subsidy to your electric bill

Russ Zimmer, Asbury Park Press, Aug 16, 2018

A surcharge coming to your electric bill — one that is meant to encourage offshore wind projects near New Jersey — has begun to take shape.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities released a draft rule that would establish offshore wind energy certificates (ORECs), which are the subsidies that utilities and their customers will pay for energy produced by zero-emission turbines miles off of our coast.

The proposed rule gives developers something concrete on prospective revenues to show to lenders who will finance these billion-dollar projects, said Ken Sheehan, director of the Division of Clean Energy at the state Board of Public Utilities. See how wind energy has materialized around the world in the video above.

The exact charge to be tacked on to monthly bills is not identified in the rule as that will change from project to project and depend on specifics, such as distance from land and electric generation potential.

The subsidies will allow developers to gradually recoup their investment over 20 years.

"They won’t receive a dime from the state of New Jersey until they are up and running," Sheehan told the Asbury Park Press on Wednesday.

Now, New Jersey waits for applications from interested parties. How long will that be?

"Ultimately, I think the governor will be the one who puts that schedule out publicly," Sheehan said. "I feel comfortable saying we're months away, not years."

Gov. Phil Murphy set an aggressive goal for New Jersey to produce 3,500 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind sources by 2030. Twenty years after that, state plans call for all the power consumed in the state to originate from clean energy, likely including additional capacity from offshore turbines.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the draft language is short on specifics but that he remained optimistic about the direction of the state's offshore wind program.

"The most important thing is that we have a rule out there," he said.

Power plants are the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, which collect in the atmosphere, trap heat and make the world warmer.

Climate change has spurred sea level rise, a danger that has manifested on the Jersey Shore at about twice the rate it has worldwide and threatens some 25,000 homes on the Shore — the barrier islands most acutely — in the next 20 years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Just 4 percent of the electricity consumed in New Jersey in May came from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydroelectric, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Natural gas accounted for 49 percent and close behind was nuclear power (45 percent), which was given a subsidy in May that will end up costing some New Jersey households between $30 and $40 more per year.

The justification from the Murphy Administration for the nuclear aid was to keep the state from becoming even more reliant on natural gas, which has proven to be a cheap domestic fuel but also the reason why methane emissions have dramatically risen.

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