TRENTON – New Jersey is leading other East Coast states with its plans for offshore wind energy, but the federal government still needs to expedite its permitting process for those projects to move forward, said members of a new national pro-wind power coalition.
New Jersey’s offshore waters have enough reliable wind to power “more than every household in the state, with some to spare,” said Matt Elliott of Environment New Jersey, which hosted a State House press conference Wednesday to release a new report by the National Wildlife Federation.
With four developers working on plans that would in all supply up to 1,750 megawatts – about the power of an additional 2.5 Oyster Creek-sized nuclear reactors – Elliott said, “New Jersey is poised to be one of America’s leaders on offshore wind.”
However, “it should not take seven years” to obtain federal permits, said Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, D-Somerset, who chairs the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. Chivukula and other speakers likened the permitting process – which U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has promised to streamline – to being even more difficult than obtaining a Gulf of Mexico oil-drilling permit.
Meanwhile, Salazar’s agency on Wednesday released offshore petroleum exploration plans that continue to exclude the Atlantic coast and eastern Gulf of Mexico for five years – a reversal of earlier Obama administration moves to consider opening those areas for oil and natural gas production.
“Practically speaking, under the new plan, from 2012 to 2017, these sensitive coasts will be “off the table’ for drilling,” Elliott said. New Jersey environmental and fishing groups lobbied against East Coast drilling, out of fears that spills from potential drilling sites off Virginia could threaten Cape May and beaches to the north.
Research to prepare for wind power off New Jersey has shown that industry can operate safely within environmental constraints that protect fish, birds and wildlife, said Eric Stiles of the New Jersey Audubon Society.
“We need to move forward aggressively, and I’m saying that as an advocate for wildlife,” Stiles said. Studies have shown the numbers of birds offshore decline significantly starting 7.6 miles east of the beach, and Stiles said developers know why to avoid other significant areas: “You don’t put them on shoals. You don’t put them right off an inlet.”
Transmission lines carrying power across Pennsylvania into New Jersey “kill more birds than windmills,” said Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club.
Curtis Fisher, who directs the National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast office in Montpelier, Vt. and formerly headed the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, was lead author of the wind report. It is co-sponsored by some 40 environmental, civic and labor groups that have a common interest in promoting wind power, he said.
Thomas P. Fote, legislative director for the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, said his group is involved because continued reliance on coal-generated power from the Ohio valley brings atmospheric fallout that leads to mercury contamination in fish.
“Every river, stream and lake in New Jersey has a fish advisory” warning people to limit their consumption, he said.
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