Governor Christie Vetoes Offshore Wind Bill

Recently, Governor Christie vetoed legislation designed to allow additional applications for offshore wind projects seeking approval from state regulators. The now-defunct bill, S988, sponsored by Senators Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) and Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), sought to allow the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (“BPU”) to open a 30-day period for the submission of offshore wind project applications. More specifically, the bill would have allowed BPU to accept and approve “a qualified wind energy project that is located in territorial waters offshore of [a] municipality in which casino gaming is authorized,” i.e. a wind project offshore from Atlantic City.

S988 would have been an extension of the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act (“OWEDA”) which went into effect in 2010. OWEDA directed BPU to create an offshore wind credits program and require a percentage of electricity sold in New Jersey to come from offshore wind energy. OWEDA also authorized BPU to accept applications for “qualified offshore wind projects,” defined as a wind turbine electricity generation facility located in the Atlantic Ocean connected to a New Jersey electricity transmission system. No offshore wind projects have been approved since the passage of OWEDA. The Governor had previously refused to approve an earlier version of the bill in early 2016. That version of the bill would have eliminated the requirement in OWEDA that a project sponsor prepare and submit a cost-benefit analysis for consideration by BPU as to whether the proposed project provides a net benefit to New Jersey.

The most recent bill sought to re-open the application period for a long-pending five-turbine, 25-megawatt offshore wind development proposed by Fisherman’s Energy, LLC (“Fisherman’s”). According to Fisherman’s, the project, to be located 2.8 miles off the coast of Atlantic City, will be an ideal “showcase” as the first offshore windfarm in the United States. In an open letter to Governor Christie dated March 23, 2016, Fisherman’s argued that offshore wind is a smart investment for New Jersey and will bring jobs to the state and urged the Governor to approve S988.

In vetoing S988, the Governor stated that even the current version of S988, which did not eliminate the cost-benefit analysis requirement, usurped too much authority from BPU. According to the Governor’s statement, issued alongside the veto, BPU should continue to be afforded discretion as to when it will allow applicants to submit proposals for new offshore wind projects. The Governor concluded that the provisions of S988 were a “notable departure from OWEDA” and that he could not support a bill which would “run contrary to OWEDA’s original intent.”

Overall, whether or not Fisherman’s, or any other offshore wind developer, will obtain all the necessary approvals to begin construction remains to be seen.