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As ACUA windmills whir on land, offshore project waits for its turn

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The planned Deepwater wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island, drew national attention this week when construction started, because it’s the first offshore wind farm in the country. The witnesses to the early work, near Block Island, included U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who called it “a pioneering moment in U.S. history.”

But the proposed Fishermen’s Energy wind farm, off Atlantic City, continues to draw state opposition. New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities rejected the project last year, saying the power it would produce would cost consumers too much. An appeals court sided with the BPU in May, but a Fishermen’s Energy official said this week that the company has appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the existing Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, on the back bay in Atlantic City, keeps drawing tourists. The five-windmill facility on the grounds of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority invites curious visitors in to see the windmills at noon every Monday and Friday of the summer, and they show up steadily, from all over.

“We probably average about 30 people,” for a tour says Monica Coffey, an ACUA spokeswoman, “but we’ve had in excess of 70.”

The current count is more than 27,000 wind tourists — “And they come from all over the world,” she added, including Japan, Russia and Indonesia.

Early in the tour, Coffey and other guides emphasize to visitors that the money end of wind power works very well — especially for the windmills’ home of almost 10 years, since the 7.5-megawatt farm formally opened in December 2005.

The ACUA leases land at its sewage-treatment plant, just off Route 30, to the wind farm for $15,000 a year. Plus the authority got a guaranteed electric rate of 7.85 cents per kilowatt hour locked in for 20 years. That’s a considerable discount off, for example, Atlantic City Electric’s latest “price to compare” charge of 10.32 cents a kilowatt hour for residential customers.

Put all that together, and it’s “fair to say we have averaged $500,000 in savings per year since the wind farm went into service,” including the $15,000 from the lease, by Coffey’s figures. Officials say the windmills generate enough electricity to power about 60 percent of the operations at the ACUA’s bayside plant — which treats the sewage for most Atlantic County residents and summer visitors.

Paul Gallagher, chief operating officer and counsel for Cape May-based Fishermen’s Energy, was with the ACUA when the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm was built.

He also knows the developers of the Block Island wind farm that started this week, and he wishes them nothing but smooth sailing — even if he notes that the equipment to build the five turbines “is riding right past New Jersey” on its way to Rhode Island.

The foundations were designed by a New Orleans company and built in Houston. One of those foundations made a bit more news later in the week, when it was damaged in a collision with a construction barge.

Gallagher says Fishermen’s Energy appealed the BPU’s denial to the Supreme Court in June and expects to hear by early fall whether the state’s highest court will take the case.

The company has contended that the BPU based its rejection on incorrect figures. The regulators figured the cost of electricity from the offshore wind farm at about $263 per megawatt hour; Fishermen’s says the actual cost is about $199.

Gallagher is optimistic the company will be able to build its project, and he says Fishermen’s has made changes — and is willing to make more as needed — to build a 25-megawatt project that was actually inspired by a state call for more wind energy.

But for now, “I think the industry is excited that somebody has finally gotten started,” he said, after work got going in Rhode Island. He even sees an upside to the continued delay of the Atlantic City project, which developers had planned to have built and generating electricity by last year. Now, their goal is 2017.

“Being first has certain expenses and premiums attached to it,” Gallagher said. “My insurance guy is a lot more comfortable” with the Fishermen’s plant now that another one is being built. “And we’re going to use the same marine contractor” — Weeks Marine, based in New Jersey, which will also have experience to build on from its Rhode Island work.

“We think it’s great that Deepwater is going to be first,” Gallagher added. “And we would like to be second.”

At one recent tour of the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm, Coffey finished the initial explanation of the benefits of wind power to the sewage plant. Then she asked the 25 or so guests for questions.

The first one came from Wes Winkler, who splits his time between homes in Brigantine and Wayne, Passaic County, a route that takes him right by the windmills every trip. And his question, after seeing and hearing about them, was this:

“Why did you only build five?”

Contact: 609-272-7237

MDeangelis@pressofac.com

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Print Director

Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.

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