Chris Wissemann ’83 loved a good road trip when he was a kid. Then came the gas shortages. “I’m a product of the 1970s,” he says. “You’d have to wait on these lines that were 20 to 30 cars long to fill up on gas.”Wissemann now wants all of us to have more reliable and domestically produced energy. Since 2012 he has been the CEO of Fishermen’s Energy, a for-profit company started by the New Jersey commercial fishing industry to build wind farms in the Garden State. The company aims to build the first offshore farm on the East Coast, three miles off the coast of Atlantic City. It would churn out 25 megawatts of power, enough to power 10,000 homes.
New Jersey regulators denied Fishermen’s application in April, but the Obama administration awarded the company a $47 million grant for the project in May. The company has appealed the board’s decision and Wissemann told reporters he hoped the grant would compel the state utilities board to reconsider the plan. The company hopes one day to supply 100,000 New Jersey homes with clean energy, according to the Associated Press.
Wind power generated only 4 percent of U.S. electricity last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and none of it was from offshore sources. (By contrast, coal and natural gas produced 39 percent and 27 percent, respectively.) But Presidents Obama and George W. Bush have both called for developing more wind power, and a 2010 government study noted that the potential exists for the eastern United States to get 20 percent of its electricity from wind turbines by 2024.
Not surprisingly, Wissemann majored in energy studies at Brown. For his first job, he sold solar panels to New York City property owners. Until its 2001 collapse, Wissemann worked at Enron in a division that reduced energy expenses for large corporate clients through fossil fuels or renewable sources. After leaving the company, he had an epiphany: clean energy is essential. “I spent almost 20 years working through the mill,” he says, “before I realized that it was so fundamental to our way of life that we come up with a sustainable way to power our economy.”
Before joining Fishermen’s Energy, Wissemann became managing director at Great Lakes Wind Energy, now known as Freshwater Wind, which wants to build the first freshwater wind farm in Lake Erie near Cleveland. Before that, he founded Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island firm hoping this year to start building a wind farm off Block Island.
Fisherman’s Energy started in 2007 after New Jersey’s fishing industry did an about-face and embraced offshore wind power as a source of potential economic growth. The company says that some of its employees come from small, family-owned fishing fleets. Others worked at commercial fishing fleets and seafood processing facilities.
Wissemann believes harnessing wind to create electricity will ultimately prove more effective than conservation. “The best way to [change energy use],” he says, “is to generate sustainable energy, because you’re not going to change human behavior.”