2 firms win bids to build windmills off New Jersey coast; could power up to 1.2 million homes

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TRENTON, New Jersey — Two companies have won the right to build windmills off the New Jersey coast to generate enough power for up to 1.2 million homes.

The U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said the lease sales announced Monday will bring in nearly $2 million. The leased area runs roughly from Long Beach Island to the southern tip of the state near Cape May and about 7 miles offshore at its closest point, meaning the turbines would not be visible from the shore.

"Today's auction underscores the emerging market demand for renewable energy and marks another major step in standing up a sustainable offshore wind program for Atlantic coast communities," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The federal agency previously awarded nine commercial offshore wind leases, including projects off Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia.

Environmentalists generally favor the proposals as they would generate electricity without causing carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. But some question the relatively close proximity to the shoreline, which they say could interfere with migrating shorebirds.

Some recreational and commercial fishing groups also worry about being banned from productive fishing grounds near the windmills once they are built.

Several environmental groups said they were heartened by the leases, even though New Jersey has yet to approve financing rules for offshore wind.

"Gov. Christie signed a bill five years ago greenlighting off-shore wind off the Jersey shore," said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. "Today's auction is the best news for off-shore wind in New Jersey since then. New Jersey has turned from a leader to a laggard on offshore wind, and we're still waiting for off-shore wind rules from the Board of Public Utilities. Our clean energy future is blowing in the wind, and we need to harness it."

The companies that won the leases are RES America Developments Inc. of Broomfield, Colorado, which bid $880,715 for 160,480 acres, and US Wind Inc. of Baltimore, which bid just over $1 million for 183,353 acres.

A third company, Fishermen's Energy, participated in the auction but did not win. It is pursuing its own proposal to build windmills off the coast of Atlantic City.

The initial leases run for one year to submit preliminary plans. Once those plans are approved, the companies will have 4 1/2 years to submit a construction and operations plan to the federal government.

The federal agency would then conduct an environmental assessment with public input. If approved, the leases would run for 25 years.

Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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