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New Jersey lawmakers demand investigation of Ørsted over port upgrades

Saying they are concerned that Ørsted A/S has failed to live up to its commitments to the state, three New Jersey lawmakers in a letter asked the Board of Public Utilities to "immediately suspend the approval" of the company's proposed 1,100-MW Ocean Offshore Wind Farm.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Deputy Parliamentarian Adam Taliaferro and Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli in the Sept. 9 letter requested an "investigation into potential misrepresentations that Ørsted made" in its application to utility regulators regarding upgrades to the state's Paulsboro Marine Terminal to support offshore wind construction. The three Democrats addressed the letter to Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso.

Ocean Wind entered into a memorandum of understanding with Erndtebrücker Eisenwerk GmbH & Co. KG "to spur location" of a factory in Paulsboro, N.J., which "may be enlarged in its scope of activities as the Atlantic Coast offshore wind industry grows," the letter said. That process is not underway, the letter claimed.

The legislators also said that Ocean Wind made commitments to the South Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council to hire only union labor for construction and to establish a trust with a $15 million investment to "enable minority and women business enterprise and small business entry into the offshore wind industry.” While the letter did not explicitly state that the company has failed to meet those commitments, the lawmakers asked utility regulators to investigate their concerns, and, if they are validated, to “terminate the award and immediately commence a new and more transparent process for Offshore Wind applicants.”

Talks on using the Paulsboro Port to support offshore wind farms have been underway since at least 2016. On the same day lawmakers sent the letter, utility regulators approved unanimously the state's offshore wind plan. The plan said the enhancements to the 200-acre Paulsboro Marine Terminal, which could cost more than $230 million, will enable it to support offshore wind component construction by 2023.

In June, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the state would move forward with $400 million in port investments.

New Jersey has an offshore wind target of 7,500 MW online by 2035. New Jersey, in June 2019, selected Ørsted for its first offshore wind solicitation for the Ocean Wind project, which is to be built 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. The Board of Public Utilities voted unanimously to open an application for 1,200 MW to 2,400 MW of offshore wind capacity. Applications are due in December, and regulators are expected to make a decision in June 2021.

Lauren Burm, an Ørsted spokeswoman, said in a statement that, "We are surprised by what we read and do not agree with what the letter is suggesting."

"We are still in the early stages of developing the state's first commercial scale offshore wind farm," she said. "The process from start to finish is about seven years and we are well on our way and working hard with our partners toward carefully and mindfully delivering on our $695 [million] in-state spend commitment."

A spokesman for the Board of Public Utilities did not respond to a request for comment.