New Jersey’s plan to spend $4.5 million to study birds and marine life offshore prior to a pilot project with up to 80 wind turbines has drawn mixed views from activists.
“Our ocean deserves a robust, thorough, and scientifically valid study – not this bargain basement, blue-light special,” according to a statement from Cynthia A. Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook-based coalition.
Birds should be studied for three years before construction of offshore wind farms, according to a 2006 letter from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official. The proposed New Jersey ecological study would last for 18 months.
While an 18-month study is “not an end-point,” it’s “a major milestone for moving forward in making informed and appropriate decisions regarding siting of wind turbines,” said Eric Stiles, vice president for conservation and stewardship in the New Jersey Audubon Society.
State officials are gearing up for studies in advance of a potential wind turbine test project off the coast. Gov. Corzine’s proposed 2007-08 state budget would provide $4.5 million, including $2 million from the Clean Energy Fund, for a “Wind Power Ecological Baseline Study.”
“This is a significant investment based on what the Department of Environmental Protection believes is needed to conduct a thorough and comprehensive ecological review,” said Brendan Gilfillan, a Corzine spokesman. “We’re confident that they did their homework in generating that number.”
“We’re going to collect as much data as we can” in the time given for the study, said Jeanne Herb, director of policy, planning and science in the DEP. The fish and wildlife service will have an opportunity to work with the DEP, she said.
Last year, the state Blue Ribbon Panel on Development of Wind Turbine Facilities in Coastal Waters recommended that New Jersey facilitate a test project with as many as 80 wind turbines off the coast.
The panel also recommended environmental and economic studies, as well as a study on the equipment needed to link the project to the electrical grid.
Data on the distribution, abundance and migratory patterns of avian, marine mammal, marine turtle and other species would be collected for 18 months in an area extending about 15 miles offshore and covering 1,000 square miles, according to Corzine’s budget proposal.
“The results of this study will help to inform the decision to place up to 80 wind turbines, which will provide a new source of clean energy for the state,” the proposal says.
But in an e-mail to the Asbury Park Press, DEP spokeswoman Elaine Makatura defined the study area as waters off the state’s coast beginning 1 nautical mile offshore and stretching to 20 nautical miles out, where it’s about 100 feet deep.
A nautical mile is 1.15 miles.
The area is off Seaside Park to Stone Harbor in Cape May County, Makatura’s e-mail says.
This area is about 1,300 square nautical miles and does not include Delaware Bay and “areas off the New Jersey coast with known major constraints for siting offshore wind power,” such as “air-restricted zones and significant water habitat,” the e-mail says.
Asked why the area is larger than in the budget proposal, Makatura said in another e-mail: “The budget is not yet finalized.”
Studying the waters to 20 nautical miles offshore shows that New Jersey is “really being an innovator ahead of federal policy,” said Stiles, of the New Jersey Audubon Society.
Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation group based on Sandy Hook, said “$4.5 million is a lot of money.”
But it may not be adequate to do the necessary studies on possible impacts of wind turbines on migratory birds, marine mammals and other uses of the ocean, he said.
The DEP plans to issue its request for study proposals by the end of April and wants to have research under way this fall, Herb said.
Meanwhile, the state Board of Public Utilities is looking to develop a request for proposals for “a wind pilot study that’s going to be consistent with” the final recommendations in the blue ribbon panel report.
“This is all in the preliminary stage,” Hartsfield said. “Nothing has been finalized.”
“No specific sites (for a pilot project) are being looked at,” he said.
“Anything that we do will obviously have to have the input from DEP from the environmental impact viewpoint,” Hartsfield said.
Karen Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the state Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission, said the agency is still working out the details of studies that would be done on the economic impact of offshore wind turbines.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, said, “we need to make sure we do studies” to avoid unforeseen consequences or environmental impacts.
“We have to look at alternative energy sources” because of global warming’s threat to the planet and coast, Tittel said.
“We also have to make sure we do it right,” he said.
Dena Mottola, executive director of Environment New Jersey, an environmental group, said the proposed ecological study is “that critical first step” needed to “decide where and how we can install offshore wind turbines off our coast.”
New Jersey, New York, the United States and rest of the world will have to “start taking alternative electrical generation seriously” to avoid the effects of global warming, said Andrew J. Willner, executive director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper program in Keyport.
The environmental organization is trying to develop an overall energy policy and he’s “not prepared to talk about whether offshore wind or solar (power) is the appropriate alternative,” Willner said.
But solar and wind energy facilities “located in appropriate places are at least part of the solution,” he said.
By Todd B. Bates
Michael Symons of the Gannett State Bureau contributed to this story, which includes material from previous Asbury Park Press stories.
12 March 2007
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