Perplexing: Comments by Coughlin, Scutari on offshore wind surprise many involved in industry

After series of successes for industry, legislative leaders seemingly speak out against it

State Senate President Nick Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin surprised many people associated with the offshore wind industry Monday when they said the Legislature has “concerns” about the Board of Public Utilities’ approach on offshore wind projects.

“The Legislature has concerns about the BPU’s approach on the offshore wind projects,” Scutari (D-Clark) and Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) said in a joint statement. “There are still many unanswered questions about the economic impact these projects will have on ratepayers as well as potential impacts to one of our state’s largest economic drivers, tourism at the Shore.

“The BPU should be able to share these impacts with the communities affected and the Legislature before moving forward with these new offshore projects.”

What sparked these comments isn’t clear.

Senate President Nick Scutari. (File photos)

Many involved in the industry said they were surprised, but also unwilling to go on record against the two most powerful legislators in the state.

One person in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration, who asked for anonymity for the same reason, said they found the statement to be “perplexing.”

Among the reasons for the confusion was the timing.

The comments came three days after the deadline for companies to submit proposals for a third solicitation (four companies offered bids) — and came months after the third solicitation was announced and extended. Simply put, this has been the standard approach.

The comments also came about a month after big celebrations in the industry — milestones that were met with applause from state and federal legislators.

On July 6, when Murphy signed key legislation that will help the production of monopiles at the Paulsboro Maine Terminal — he did so in front of many key union leaders and members of the Legislature, including Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) and Assembly Budget Chair Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark).

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

On July 5, when the state celebrated a key approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for Ocean Wind 1, the announcement brought support from U.S. Reps. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.) and Bill Pascrell (D-9th Dist.).

Tyler Jones, a spokesperson for the administration, released a statement late in the day — one that shows support for the industry without directly addressing the comments by Scutari and Coughlin.

“Gov. Murphy understands the emerging offshore wind industry has the potential to generate billions of dollars and contribute thousands of new jobs to our economy,” the statement read. “The projects are a vital part of Gov. Murphy’s commitment to combatting climate change and moving New Jersey to a 100% clean energy economy by 2035, which will add even more good-paying green energy jobs to our state.

“The Murphy administration is firmly committed to New Jersey becoming a national leader in offshore wind development and addressing the ever-increasing dangers of climate change.”

A spokesperson for the Democratic legislators did not have additional information on the statement from Scutari and Coughlin.

Others were more than willing to speak up for the sector.

On Friday, the collective announcements by the companies who put in bids for the latest BPU solicitation came with statements of support from dozens of labor leaders, business chambers, higher education officials and environmental groups.