Less than two years ago, New Jersey selected Ørsted North America to build the nation’s first big offshore wind energy project, about 15 miles off Atlantic City.
On this side of South Jersey there hasn’t been much obvious physical progress on that plan. Many people, especially opponents of it, may think this is still early days, when the project might be substantially changed or even derailed.
But on the other side of South Jersey, it’s clear that the development of offshore wind energy is set in stone — concrete and steel to be more precise.
In Paulsboro, the state is finishing work on the first new port in half a century on the Delaware River. The port’s dock for three ships is designed to receive and ship massive objects. Right now that means 40,000-pound steel slabs headed for Midwest factories.
Soon EEW-American Offshore Structures will build a factory at the port to build monopiles to anchor wind turbines three-football-fields tall to the ocean floor. The monopile sections — made of 5-inch-thick steel plate fashioned into 40-foot diameter columns — will be shipped by barge to a New Jersey Wind Port in Salem County for assembly. From there turbine installation ships will take 90 of the finished 400-foot monopiles — weighing 5 million pounds each — into the Atlantic for placement.
EEW has made monopiles this big in Europe, where the industry is well-established and its benefits proven.
The Paulsboro port has cost $400 million. The factory, the Salem port and the installation of the offshore wind energy field will cost more.
When finished, the 1,100 megawatts of clean energy generation will be enough to power half a million homes. And that’s just the beginning. Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered the state to produce 7,500 megawatts of wind energy by 2035, enough to power 3.2 million homes.
The first wind energy bid won by Ørsted North America was expected to cost residential electricity customers a mere $1.46 more a month. Given the track history of very large state projects and the much greater size of the eventual offshore wind installations, average electric bill increases surely will be some multiple of that.
Acknowledging the costs recently, Senate President Steve Sweeney said offshore wind benefits must include significant numbers of good paying jobs — particularly in South Jersey.
The monopile factory in Paulsboro will create 500 union jobs. Another 1,500 workers are expected to be needed at the wind port in Salem (adjacent to the state’s three nuclear generating stations). Hundreds of more jobs in Atlantic County will involve constructing, maintaining and servicing the wind turbines.
The industry hits a number of sweet spots for South Jersey. It will make better use of existing facilities and resources, and its negligible impact on the environment and quality of life are remarkable for an industrial development its size. Its investment and job creation will significantly boost the regional economy.
And as we’ve said before, offshore wind is not only a proven resource for meeting energy needs while greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions — it is an energy resource particular to New Jersey as a coastal state amid America’s largest concentration of power users.
The administration of Gov. Murphy and the Legislature recognized this great opportunity and started developing it at a surprisingly good pace. That will be remembered many years from now, as the wind keeps blowing clean energy to New Jersey residents.