A ruling by federal officials that could make or break New Jersey’s first major offshore wind farm project is expected this summer.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the $1.6 billion Ocean Wind 1 project, a state-supported plan by Danish energy giant Ørsted for a 1,100-megawatt wind farm 15 miles off of Atlantic City’s coast.

The report starts the clock ticking on a mandatory 30-day waiting period before officials can announce their final Record of Decision.

The more-than-2,000 page document weighs the wind farm proposal, four alternatives, and the option of doing nothing.

After the passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022, which included record levels of green-energy incentives, Murphy said he saw economic benefit in the emerging industry and hoped to set New Jersey on the path of increasing its offshore wind capacity by 50% by 2040, striking two deals with Ørsted, one for the development of Ocean Wind 1 and another for the joint construction of a second wind farm by Ørsted and New Jersey-based Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind.

In the run-up to the release of the environmental report, the governor has had to parry criticism from opponents of the project.

Critics and opponents of Murphy blamed a spate of marine mammal deaths in New Jersey waters in the as-yet-unbuilt turbines, with statehouse Republicans attributing them to the use of sonar equipment to map the coastal seabed ahead of the wind farms’ construction.

In the environmental report, federal officials addressed those concerns and others through the alternative plans that took into account complaints surrounding marine life, visibility, or the orientation of equipment.

A final decision on the project’s environmental approval is expected this summer and Ørsted is eyeing a summer 2024 start for construction on Ocean Wind 1, a project the firm says can provide enough power for a half-million people.

Along with the development deals, New Jersey has leveraged millions in funds for the improvement of wind-energy-related infrastructure, including underwater transmission lines, and sold $160 million taxable lease revenue bonds through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority in January to support the development of a new port in Salem County tailored to windmill components.

New Jersey isn’t unique in facing some resistance to wind energy development said Joseph Kane, a fellow at The Brookings Institution. 

“We have historic federal investment and infrastructure, yes, but there’s still a need for all of these sub-national actors to coordinate on that, and that’s leading to some friction in getting that money out there,” Kane said. “I would argue we’re still in the early days of the federal funding actually reaching projects on the ground or offshore, as the case may be.”

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