N.J. Gov. Chris Christie has been blunt in his opposition to drilling for oil off the New Jersey coast and has gained substantial statewide support since the April BP oil spill. The state is highly protective of its beach tourism industry. In late June, however, New Jersey passed legislation that clears the way to build offshore wind projects such as the one proposed by Garden State Offshore Energy (GSOE).

GSOE is a joint venture between PSEG Global, a subsidiary of the state’s largest gas and electric utility, and Deepwater Wind, an offshore wind developer headquartered in New Jersey. GSOE proposed building a 350 megawatt wind farm in deep water 16 to 20 miles off the southern New Jersey coastline, so it would be barely visible from shore. When and if built, it is expected to produce 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours annually, enough electricity for more than 110,000 households.

The GSOE proposal was chosen by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities through a competitive process. GSOE plans to use “jacket” foundation technology that has been used successfully for many years in deep-water applications by the oil and gas industries.

It is scheduled to be built over three years with a targeted completion in 2013. First, it must run though the permitting procedure, involving extensive local and regional environmental studies and permitting at the state and federal levels.

It took the Cape Wind Project in Massachusetts, the first proposed U.S. offshore wind farm, nearly a decade to go through the permitting process to obtain approvals by the federal government. In April, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, finally approved the project to start construction.

“We congratulate the state of New Jersey for passing this important piece of legislation. It signals New Jersey’s commitment to creating a new and promising industry. We believe a vibrant offshore wind industry can create thousands of good-paying green jobs, boost the economy and help the state meet its renewable-energy goals,” said Rob Gibbs, vice president of GSOE and manager of development for renewable energy.

Now, the winds of public debate in New Jersey begin blowing.