New Jersey’s plans for offshore wind energy have been stymied so far by a Catch-22 and backers blame Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions for blocking the project.
The recent storm over Christie’s intervention to accept a much smaller settlement in a long-running pollution case against Exxon Mobil – the state settled for $225 million on a claim of $8.9 billion has confirmed for many that Christie is putting campaign donations for a White House bid ahead of his original vision for the state.
The irony is that Christie has framed his eventual national appeal on his ability to win elections in a blue state – an achievement based partly at least on his support for things like renewable energy. Related: Exxon Lawsuit - How $8.9 Billion Becomes $250 Million
A proposal by Fishermen’s Energy to build a 25 MW wind farm three miles off the coast of Atlantic City as a pilot project for a much bigger 330 MW farm has been approved for $47 million of funding by the US Department of Energy.
But that funding depends in part on getting approval from state regulators for an offshore wind renewable energy certificate that would make the power affordable. But in a real Catch-22, the Board of Public Utilities in New Jersey has rejected the application to go ahead with the project because there is not sufficient guarantee that federal subsidies will be forthcoming.
It is the type of conundrum that requires a political decision at the highest level and backers of the project are focusing their criticism increasingly on that highest level.
Christie took office in 2010 promising to make New Jersey a leader in wind and other renewable energies and quickly signed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act into law.
But since then, he has set his sights on running for president and courted wealthy donors like the Koch brothers, whose vested interests in oil and gas make them fierce opponents of renewable energy. This has led Christie to distance himself from these original goals, critics contend.
When the BPU rejected the Fishermen’s Energy bid a third time in November, the state chapter of the Sierra Club, a supporter of the project, was quick to place the blame on Christie’s White House ambitions. Related: Is Warren Buffett Wrong About Oil Stocks?
“Once again, the BPU took the side of the Koch brothers and Tea Party over green jobs and the environment,” state director Jeff Tittel said in a statement at the time.
The BPU said the project has not proven its net economic benefit and poses an unacceptable risk to New Jersey taxpayers and ratepayers, even though the state’s ratepayer advocate had given its blessing for the project.
The blocking of the wind farm project and the Exxon settlement are now being seen as part of a pattern of Christie support for fossil fuel interests.
Christie pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative just months after his first conversations about a White House bid with the Koch brothers in 2011, even though the 10 states in the group registered solid economic growth and a 40% reduction in carbon emissions in 2005-12.
New Jersey had collected nearly $100 million in pollution credit payments while it was a member and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said at a congressional hearing last month that the state has lost out on $114 million from selling permits since leaving and stands to lose $387 million through 2020. Related: Finally Some Good News For Oil Prices
Since that initial meeting with the Kochs, Christie has drained more than $200 million in surplus funds from a state clean energy fund to fill budget gaps, refused to raise New Jersey’s relatively low gasoline tax, vetoed legislation to ban disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, and twisted arms to get a new member on the state’s Pinelands Commission who could swing the vote in favor of a natural gas pipeline through a preservation area.
The Koch brothers have in the meantime looked with favor on other Republican contenders, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a reliable supporter of oil and gas interests, now looks certain to enter the race.
Perhaps if Christie’s White House prospects wane (further) in the coming months, offshore wind in New Jersey will have a better chance of going ahead.
By Darrell Delamaide for Oilprice.com
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