TRENTON — An 89-page interim report released Wednesday outlines progress made by a task force investigating the pros and cons of building wind turbines offshore, but offers no insight into which way it's tilting.
The panel will save its findings until its work is completed in March, when it's expected to offer a comprehensive report to Gov.-elect Jon S. Corzine.
"We want to give the public an additional opportunity to provide us with supplemental information," said Edward J. McKenna, the Red Bank mayor who is chairman of The Blue Ribbon Panel on Development of Wind Turbine Facilities in Coastal Waters. "We will reconvene in January for additional deliberations."
New Jersey consumes more electricity than it produces and imports about 15 to 30 percent of its power from out-of-state, according to the report. Many of those sources are fossil fuel-based power plants that are upwind from New Jersey, adding to the state’s air quality issues.
And the state’s demand for electricity is increasing by about 1.4 percent each year, according to the report.
Acting Gov. Codey established the panel by executive order a year ago, empowering its nine members to evaluate the costs and benefits of developing offshore wind turbines, or windmills.
"This is an opportunity for residents to play a key role in shaping New Jersey’s clean-energy choices," Codey said in a written statement Wednesday. "With the public’s help, we will be able to pursue the best options for our state."
Timothy P. Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, sits on the panel and expressed skepticism for wind as an alternative energy source.
"One of the key findings is that wind power does not have the ability to address, to solve the energy (and) environmental problems related to global warming or air pollution in New Jersey," Dillingham said. "And secondly . . . we should be very cautious in regard to how offshore structures have a direct impact on the ocean."
Jeff Tittel, president of Sierra Club in New Jersey, said he reads ambivalence and indecision in the report.
"Meaning, it seems they don’t want to take any kind of position," Tittel said. "At the same time, I sort of felt that it left more questions than it answered. . . . We think wind has a lot of potential and we think it should be done right, and that’s why we’re hoping for more answers."
Theodore J. Korth, one of the panel’s members and special counsel for the New Jersey Audubon Society, said, "the interim report does not contain conclusions, it is not designed to give insight into what the panel is thinking."
Scott A. Weiner, another panel member and director of the Center for Energy, Economic & Environmental Policy at Rutgers University, said "we’re eager to get the public comment and reaction to this interim report."
"There are no findings or conclusions" in it, said Weiner, a former state environmental commissioner and former state Board of Public Utilities president. "That wasn’t the purpose of this report. This report is . . . intended to pull together what (the) panel sees as the context for developing . . . findings and recommendations."
Nils Stolpe, communications director for the Garden State Seafood Association, said offshore wind energy would hurt commercial fishing.
The inevitable exclusion zones around the structures would restrict anglers and place further limits on navigation offshore. Also, underwater transmission lines could disrupt migratory patterns of ocean wildlife, he said.
"Have you seen one of these beasts?" Stolpe said. "They’re hundreds of feet tall and from a distance, their blades are lazily rotating, but when you get up close these blades are 150 feet long turning at a velocity that is way fast. They’re intimidating. They could be giant chum factories."
Raymond D. Bogan, a Point Pleasant Beach lawyer, charter boat captain and bird watcher, said the benefits are outweighed by the detriments. He cited "effect on migratory birds, waterfowl, and the restrictions on fishing areas because boats would not be able to get close to these windmills."
Robert A. Palmer, a commissioner in Long Beach Township, has met with the proponents of wind energy and came away feeling impressed about the technology. He said he doubts it would be bad for the environment, as opponents suggest, but said its impact on tourism and the commercial fishing industry make it a deal-breaker for the Jersey Shore.
"I guess I’m being a little selfish or "shellfish,’ if you can forgive the pun, but longliners wouldn’t be able to drag their nets with transmission lines going to the mainland from these turbines," he said. "And Long Beach Island is one of the biggest tourist attractions in New Jersey."
Erik Larsen: (732) 643-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Environmental writer Todd B. Bates contributed to this story.
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