Cape Cod said no last month to offshore wind turbines, with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a longtime advocate of clean energy, casting his lot with those who said the towers would ruin the view and threaten birds crossing the Nantucket Sound.
New Jersey, on the other hand, is moving ahead with all due speed to develop wind power off the Jersey Shore, having concluded, apparently, it is unlikely to meet its renewable energy goals without this source.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has contracted for a $4.5 million study to tell it where, in a vast stretch of sea extending from Seaside Park to Stone Harbor, wind turbines would have the least impact on birds, dolphins and other ocean creatures.
More significantly, perhaps, the state Board of Public Utilities has at the same time gone out for bids from developers to build a pilot project – a wind farm of up to 80 turbines – somewhere in that same expanse of ocean that extends 72 miles along the coast and 20 miles out to sea.
The developers’ proposals, which are to include specific locations, are due in January, with the BPU expected to pick one and award it a $19 million subsidy in March.
Meanwhile the DEP’s study is expected to begin in January and last for 18 months, with a final draft report due in September 2009.
To one environmental group, that seems like putting the cart before the horse.
“The (DEP) is gathering all this information to lead to an informed policy decision,” said Kari Martin, a spokeswoman for Clean Ocean Action, a nonprofit based in Sandy Hook. “But what good is it if the BPU is going to give a developer assistance before the information is in?”
The BPU notes its contract with a developer will include a specific clause allowing it to back out if any environmental problems arise.
And actual construction on a pilot wind farm is a long way off, the agency says.
“The earliest it could begin is late summer or early fall 2010,” said Janeen Lawlor, a BPU spokeswoman.
Given the length of time it will take a developer to do all the studies and get all the permits required, Lawlor said, it is better for the BPU to move concurrently with the DEP rather than wait for its study’s completion.
Other environmental groups support offshore wind farms and concur with Lawlor’s view.
“I think the two are reinforcing each other,” the New Jersey Environmental Federation’s David Pringle said of the initiatives by the DEP and BPU.
The DEP study, to be carried out by Geo-Marine Inc., of Dallas, should “answer a lot of questions,” Pringle said. “We’re going to know a lot more about this than we do about other, land-based alternatives.”
The study will use aerial and shipboard surveys, radar and other techniques to gauge the density and movement patterns of various species of birds, marine mammals and sea turtles.
The ultimate goal of the study, said Dan Wilkinson, the Geo-Marine executive in charge of it, is to “find the areas that are critical to these critters” and recommend “you don’t put wind farms on top of them.”
If anything, he’d like to see things move faster, said Jeff Tittel, head of the Sierra Club in New Jersey.
“The more we study, the more global warming is a problem,” he said.
Instead of studying the entire 72-mile-long, 20-mile-wide stretch of ocean, the DEP should “find three or four locations based on existing information” and study those in depth, Tittel said.
“They already have plenty of information, he said.
Tom Fote, the head of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, a sportsmen’s group, said he has no objections to wind turbines but questioned why the state was limiting its search to the 72-mile stretch it specified.
Noting that the area north of Seaside Park has many wealthy towns, he said it “looks a little suspicious to me.”
Shipping channels approaching New York harbor and the Delaware Bay played a role in setting the limits, according to officials at the DEP, as did the flight paths of migratory birds and airplanes from the Lakehurst Naval Air Station.
“Our marching orders are to produce a robust scientific study to contribute to offshore wind policy,” said Jeanne Herb, the DEP’s director of policy, planning and science, at a hearing Friday at which officials from the DEP and Geo-Marine outlined the technical details of their study.
By Richard Pearsall
13 November 2007
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