Feds to Lease Offshore Windmill Sites off New Jersey Coast

Feds to Lease Offshore Windmill Sites off New Jersey Coast

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - The federal government plans to lease nearly 344,000 acres of the ocean floor off the coast of New Jersey to companies interested in building offshore windmills to generate electricity.

The Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management say that if fully developed, the leases could result in enough wind-generated electricity to power 1.2 million homes.

The leases are to be sold Nov. 9.

"On the heels of this summer's historic 'steel-in-the-water' milestone for the nation's first commercial offshore wind farm, today's announcement marks another major step in standing up a sustainable offshore wind program for Atlantic coast communities," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

In July, construction started on Deepwater Wind's $225 million, 30-megawatt offshore wind project off Block Island in Rhode Island that will provide electricity to Block Island and Rhode Island mainland consumers.

So far, 13 companies have been qualified to bid on the New Jersey leases.

On three occasions, New Jersey regulators have rejected a proposal from one of those companies - Fishermen's Energy - to build windmills off the coast of Atlantic City, saying the applicant hadn't demonstrated financial integrity, among other concerns. The company is appealing the rejection to the state Supreme Court.

Chris Wissemann, CEO of Fishermen's Energy, applauded the decision and called on New Jersey to approve his project. "Now that it is clear that commercial-scale development is coming to New Jersey, it is all the more important to implement a demonstration-scale project as a first step so that New Jersey can responsibly develop full-scale projects".

Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, an environmental group that supports wind energy, said Gov. Chris Christie's administration needs to approve such projects.

"Today's announcement removes one more barrier to offshore wind in New Jersey," O'Malley said. "With this federal action, it makes it even more critical for the Christie administration to move forward with the long-stalled state offshore wind program. New Jersey's offshore wind potential is still a gold mine, and can power our state with clean energy for decades to come."

Christie's office didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has so far awarded nine commercial offshore wind leases, including seven through the competitive lease sale process. Two are off Rhode Island-Massachusetts, another two are off the Massachusetts coast, two more are off Maryland and one is off Virginia. The federal government says the lease sales have generated about $14.5 million in winning bids for more than 700,000 acres in federal waters.

Environmentalists generally favor the proposals as they would generate electricity without causing carbon pollution that contributes to climate change.

But some question the relatively close proximity to the shoreline (about 7 miles at its closest point), which they say could interfere with migrating shorebirds. Some recreational and commercial fishing groups also worry about being banned from productive fishing grounds near the windmills once they are built.

The lease area would run roughly from Long Beach Island to the southern tip of the state near Cape May.

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