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Wind turbines: The answer my friend is not always blowing in the wind

The Superior Court of New Jersey in Re: Petition of Fisherman’s Atlantic City Windfarm, LLC for the Approval of the State Waters Wind Project and Authorizing Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificates, (2015) considered an appeal by Fishermen’s Atlantic City Windfarm, LLC, (FACW) for approval of a wind energy project that would be subsidized by the State’s ratepayers.

In 1999, the Electric Discount and Energy Competition Act (EDECA) was created to restructure the electric power industry in New Jersey. Essentially, this meant that the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) adopt “Renewable Portfolio Standards” where it was required that utility companies increase their reliance on renewable energy annually. In 2010, the EDECA was amended to allow for the development of an offshore wind energy program in New Jersey. The BPU would be responsible for reviewing any applications of this type, and each application had to include specific information on the proposed wind turbines (such as type and size), as well as the history to-date of the turbine, and the global track record of the turbine. Another huge component of the application is that each project show positive economic and environmental gain for New Jersey and that each applicant can prove financial integrity.

On May 16, 2011, FACW submitted an application to the BPU which proposed an offshore wind farm powered by six turbines with XEMC as the turbine manufacturer. As part of the application process, the BPU consulted with Boston Pacific Company, Inc. and Dr. David E. Dismukes of Acadian Consulting Group for expert opinions on the project. The experts concluded that the turbines FACW proposed were untested for offshore use and that an independent assessment of the technology should be provided. XEMC’s financial integrity was also questioned, as its financial information was based on Chinese standards, rather than American or even European standards, and it was asked that XEMC submit a statement from a recognized global accounting firm which explained the methodology of the Chinese standards and that could also affirm XEMC’s financial integrity.

FACW’s chief executive officer, Chris Wissemann, responded saying that the best they could do was provide an English translation of XEMC’s financial statements. Wissemann filed several amended applications, where FACW finally concluded that the proposed project would produce 85,492 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy, with a fifty percent chance that the actual output would exceed that projection. Still, expert opinion questioned the financial integrity of XEMC, and believed that the project would not result in net economic benefits since its capital costs were too high. On July 29, 2013, the BPU rejected FACW’s application. FACW filed for three rounds of appeal, where, ultimately, the Superior Court of New Jersey upheld the BPU’s decision.

The Superior Court of New Jersey stated that it found nothing unreasonable in the BPU’s concern of reliable and understandable accounting information about XEMC, and that the issue was not whether FACW translated XEMC’s financial information from Mandarin to English, but rather, that the accounting standards were not adequately explained. So language choice does not matter in the world of rate payers and utilities.   What does matter now is what has always mattered: sound supportable accounting. If the wind turbines will not be financially viable, then they ought not be installed.

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