APNewsBreak: US yanks funds from unbuilt windmill farm

AP News
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Posted: Jan 03, 2017 4:51 PM

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A plan to build windmills off the New Jersey coast that has already burned through nearly $11 million and remains dead in the water is being cut off from further government funding.

The U.S. Department of Energy says Fishermen's Energy failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to have a power purchase agreement in place.

The department is revoking most of the $47 million in funding it pledged to the project in 2014; about $10.6 million has been spent already on preliminary work.

The project would have involved building six windmills about three miles off the coast of Atlantic City, which could have generated enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.

In a written statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday, the energy department said the Atlantic City project missed a key deadline.

"Under the Energy Department's award, Fishermen's Energy must have secured a power offtake agreement by December 31 to be eligible for another round of funding," the department said. "The criteria were not met by that date, so we have initiated the close-out process for the project."

Company CEO Chris Wissemann said Fishermen's Energy hopes a last-ditch effort to secure a power deal will succeed. But if it doesn't, he says the company will wait until New Jersey officials adopt friendlier policies toward wind energy development.

"We sincerely appreciate the support of the DOE over the past few years seeking to drive down the cost of offshore wind and bring this job intensive industry to the U.S.," he told the AP on Tuesday. "We will continue to seek a customer for our power so that we can eventually build the project, hopefully working with the DOE. We have a short period of time to complete a Hail Mary pass."

Wissemann said the company will try to keep the project viable even without the federal funding, even if that means waiting until a new administration is in place next year in Trenton following the departure of Republican Gov. Chris Christie. A spokesman for the state Board of Public Utilities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rhode Island recently opened a wind farm off Block Island, becoming first in a market New Jersey had once hoped to lead.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, called the withdrawal of funding a lost opportunity.

"At a time when New Jersey's economy continues to struggle and lags behind the nation in job creation, Fishermen's Energy was poised to deliver the kind of good-paying, clean energy jobs Atlantic City and its working families desperately need," he said. "It is deeply frustrating and defies common sense that the state would turn away a nearly $50 million federal investment and turn its back on New Jersey's hardworking families."

New Jersey energy regulators have rejected the plan three times, saying among other things that a Chinese company that would have owned 70 percent of the project did not demonstrate financial integrity. Fishermen's Energy says it has cut ties with that firm.

A key concern for wind energy projects has been their affordability and whether they will need substantial subsidies to prevent the cost of the power they generate from being too expensive to make it viable.

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