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Shovel-ready: Anbaric’s offshore wind energy transmission plan, years in making, is ready to go

Anbaric Development Partners is in control of a roughly 18-acre parcel of land that abuts the Deans switching station in South Brunswick that is operated by Public Service Electric & Gas. It’s a station that is universally regarded as the top place for power generated from offshore wind turbines to be brought into the state’s power grid, because the station will be able to take in a lot of power without requiring much of an upgrade.

The location of the parcel is so ideal that any of the 13 companies that are looking to be awarded a contract from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to build a transmission system for offshore wind energy would love to have it.

It’s why Anbaric has been acquiring the property over the course of the last decade — long before state officials asked the BPU and regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection to incorporate New Jersey’s offshore wind goals into the regional transmission planning process known as the State Agreement Approach, the first of its kind in the country.

It’s why Anbaric not only conceived a potential 18-mile onshore transmission line (the Boardwalk Powerlink Project) — one that will take power generated in the ocean onto land in Keyport to that Deans substation — but it has done a lot of the early permitting and site approvals, along with building the type of personal relationships needed to get things done in this state.

It’s why Anbaric hopes it will be at the top of the list later this month, when the BPU announces an award for a multibillion-dollar transmission system that could go to one or multiple applicants.

Simply put, Anbaric feels it has the only “shovel-ready” proposal, thanks to its numerous investments of time, money and relationships over the years.

“We have a project that’s ready to go,” said Janice Fuller, president of Anbaric’s efforts in the mid-Atlantic region.

Fuller said the company understands these efforts have come with great risk — after all, nothing is guaranteed in a contest in which so many companies are competing.

Anbaric, however, felt it was a risk worth taking. So did its partners: Ferreira Construction, a seasoned New Jersey utility and civil contractor, and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which provided the funding.

“This is something that we, as a company, chose to do,” she said. “We recognized that there may never be a solicitation that we could bid a project for — or that we might not get selected if there was. But, we thought that it makes sense.

“And we feel it gives us a competitive advantage, because it provides us a shovel-ready project that the BPU can have confidence will deliver what’s needed, when it’s needed.”

Like the other entities involved, Anbaric and Fuller are now in in the wait-and-see moment of the process.

BPU officials have long said a selection will be made in October, with the board’s Oct. 26 meeting figuring to be the day of the announcement. But how many companies will be selected (it could be more than one), the extent of the ask and the timeline for completion are all unknown.

Fuller recently spoke with ROI-NJ about Anbaric’s efforts. Here’s a look at more of the conversation, edited for space and clarity.

ROI-NJ: Let’s start with the Boardwalk Powerlink Project. Give us more of the background and explain how it will impact the communities it touches.

Janice Fuller: We come on land from the water in Keyport, in the northern Raritan Bay area of Monmouth County. It’s just over 18 miles from there to South Brunswick. The entirety of the route is in the public right of ways on existing roadways. It’s all buried construction, so there’s no overhead transmission lines. We open the road, dig a trench, lay the cable, fill it back in and repave the streets. Everyone gets very nice new streets out of it.

ROI: We’re guessing that finding just the right route was a challenge. Talk about the effort.

JF: Anbaric’s been developing this project for many years. We’ve done the land acquisition, the routing, the engineering, the permitting — all of that. More than that, we’ve done the less tangible piece, the community and stakeholder engagement that comes with such a project. We’ve been building relationships with the local communities where our project will start carry through and end for years. That’s as important as anything. 

ROI: Why is that? 

JF: I think if you look at the transmission of offshore wind projects, not just in New Jersey, but everywhere, transmission often is where they are running into difficulty. Where is that cable going to touch the land? Where is it going to go from there? And where are you going to build the necessary infrastructure converter station? This where you can run into issues where communities become uncomfortable.

We’ve been building relationships with the communities our project will touch, getting to know the elected officials and getting to understand the concerns of community groups. What would they like? Is it better if we go on this street, as opposed to that street?

These are the kinds of conversations you don’t want to start having post-award — when the state is ready to be building the project. We’ve been having those conversations now, in an attempt to take as much of that risk out of a project as possible.

I’m not going to say that you’ll never have another problem. Communities change, different people come into play. But we’ve been doing that work and making ourselves known in this community so that people are comfortable with us.

ROI: The BPU has, in fact, already run into problems during the transmission for the Ocean Wind I project. Last month, the BPU approved plans over objections from Ocean City.  

JF: We feel we can avoid issues like this. When we’ve acquired property, we’ve done it with enough space so we can blend it into the community. We work with local elected officials asking: ‘What do you want this building to look like? How can we make this more acceptable to your community and be a welcome neighbor?’

Clean energy should be a positive. We should want people to want it. We want communities to recognize that it can be a benefit. We don’t want to have the negativity of it being an unwelcome neighbor. 

ROI: We appreciate all the goodwill, but how will it translate? Is it possible to say how much sooner Anbaric will be able to get the work done because of this prep work?

JF: I would say this easily takes at least a year off a timeline. There’s value in that we can start essentially immediately — and I think there will be fewer delays throughout the course of the project because of the work that we’ve done already.

That being said, part of this is dependent on: ‘When does the state want this infrastructure to be available?’ If they say there are multiple awards going to Deans or to other substations, such as Larrabee or Sewaren, does the state want all of that infrastructure built immediately and have it ready to plug into, or do they want it built in phases?

If they divide the award up among multiple bidders, there’s going to have to be a sequencing and coordination between the companies who are awarded. I don’t know if there’s really a right or wrong answer to all of this, but I know we are ready to go now.

ROI: It needs to be said, some of Anbaric’s ability to have longstanding relationships with so many elected officials is a credit to you. How do your various previous jobs in government, including being the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, help you in your role?

JF: I’ve spent my entire career inside and out of government in New Jersey. I recognize that has value. I grew up in New Jersey, I understand and embrace the local control of our 500-plus municipalities. And I get, for these projects to be successful, local buy in and local acceptance is critical.

I’ve said it many times and I mean it: You can get your federal permits and your state permits, but what you really need to be doing is working with that local community organization or the zoning board who’s going to rezone the property and make sure that you’re able to actually construct what you need to construct.

I think my experience does give me a different perspective, because I understand you’re in these communities for decades to come.

ROI: Which goes back to our starting point: Anbaric didn’t start working on transmission proposals when the state made its announcement.

JF: That’s exactly right. For years, we’ve been thinking: If we ever had an independent solicitation in New Jersey for transmission, where are the best places to bring the power? And how would we get it there? That is how we came to develop our Deans project — and thinking about other projects that would connect to Larabee and Sewaren. We’ve been thinking about these places for a really long time, so we were ready.

When the state made the announcement, we weren’t starting from scratch. We were activating what we had been planning for.

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