A nearly yearlong effort by the state to figure out the benefits and drawbacks of offshore, energy-producing wind farms is leaving some environmental groups less than blown away.
The Blue Ribbon Panel on Development of Wind Turbines in Coastal Waters, also known as the wind panel, released an interim report Wednesday that environmentalists say resolves none of the issues that led to the panel’s creation.
The report leaves open-ended issues such as the impact of wind farms on birds, marine life, commercial and recreational fishing, navigation and even ocean views, they said.
"There’s more hot air in this report than global warming," said Jeff Tittel, who heads the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. "It doesn’t say a lot."
But panel members contend in the report that’s in part because of a lack of quantitative scientific research on the impact of wind farms, and gaps in research into their effect on things such as marine life.
Panel members couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.
However, the panel’s chairman, Red Bank, Monmouth County, Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. writes in the report’s cover letter that "this interim report is not a finished product as the issues relevant to wind turbines in coastal waters and to New Jersey’s energy future are complex."
The panel will hold a public meeting on the report from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 20 in committee room 1 of the Statehouse Annex in Trenton. It also will schedule another public meeting on the report in one of the state’s coastal counties.
"Many of the issues addressed in this report were brought to our attention by thousands of stakeholders and citizens of New Jersey," McKenna said in a statement. "I look forward to further public input as we continue this important discussion of New Jersey’s energy future."
Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey formed the wind panel in December 2004 when he ordered a 15-month halt to plans to build several wind farms off the state’s coast. Codey ordered the panel to study the environmental and economic pros and cons of the wind farms, which involve tall, wind-driven turbines that generate power.
Wind farms with hundreds of turbines are proposed off New Jersey’s coast from Sandy Hook to Cape May.
The moratorium and the panel study don’t affect the wind farm under construction at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s sewage treatment plant in Atlantic City.
According to the panel’s report, electricity consumption in New Jersey grows about 1.4 percent a year despite a robust energy-efficiency program.
The state also faces economic and environmental problems with both demand for, and supply of, electricity, it found.
Panel members found that wind farms have the potential to "offset a variety of environmental impacts" associated with current energy production methods.
However, the panel found that "by their very nature and location … such facilities may also introduce direct and indirect impacts upon the ocean environment and upon human uses of coastal resources."
"There is considerable uncertainty concerning (the) impacts due to the lack of scientific studies specific to New Jersey," the panel found.
"These impacts are not well understood … due to a lack of focused scientific investigation to date. Further, there is a significant gap in the science regarding the resources themselves."
For instance, the panel found that:
# Estimates of collisions between migrating birds and spinning wind turbines "are likely to vary widely depending on site-specific factors."
# The impact on fish populations is "difficult to quantify."
# Wind farms could present a "veritable obstacle course" to commercial fishing vessels, and "could render portions of the ocean off limits to such operations.
# The impact wind farms could have on ocean views depends on the part of the coast from which they’re viewed.
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