Atlantic City windmill plan still up in the air, but construction on it begins anyway

Energy Associated Press

Work began Tuesday on a proposed New Jersey wind power project that's still very much up in the air.

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Fishermen's Energy held a groundbreaking in Atlantic City for the onshore portion of its proposed project to locate five windmills about three miles off the city's coast by workers preparing for a connection cable. The plan, rejected three times by New Jersey utility regulators, is the subject of a court appeal due to be heard in March.

But Fishermen's Energy is powering ahead with the plan anyway in order to take advantage of federal tax credits that expire at the end of the year.

"This milestone marks the commencement of construction for Fishermen's Atlantic City wind farm, a project that will bring investment and jobs to both New Jersey and Atlantic City," said Paul Gallagher, the company's chief operating officer.

The state Board of Public Utilities ruled last month there is no guarantee the project would receive all the subsidies it needs to generate electricity affordably.

The U.S. Department of Energy promised up to $47 million for the project in May to the Chinese-backed project. But the board ruled the project can't advance without guarantees of at least $100 million in federal subsidies. The company appealed soon afterward, and a March 4 court hearing is scheduled.

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The groundbreaking came on the same day that Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center released a report asserting there is vast untapped potential for wind-powered energy in New Jersey and across the nation. The report claimed enough wind power could be developed off the coast of New Jersey over the next 15 years to power more than 80 percent of the state's homes, while reducing pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.

"The potential of New Jersey's offshore wind is too strong to ignore," said Doug O'Malley, the group's director.

The utilities board previously ruled that a Chinese company that would own 70 percent of the project did not demonstrate financial integrity. But many environmental groups strongly favor the plan, saying the country needs non-polluting sources of power.

According to the report, after more than a decade of rapid growth, wind energy now accounts for 4 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.

"The best Christmas gift New Jersey could get to fight global warming would be to move forward with off-shore wind," O Malley said.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC