Wind energy advocates cheered the news Thursday that some 344,000 acres of sea floor off Long Beach Island and the southern Jersey Shore will be opened to wind power development, while skeptics worried about the impact on migratory birds, as well as whether the turbines would be visible from the beach.
The U.S. Department of Interior will offer leases to companies that want to build wind turbines along blocks of ocean floor starting about seven miles off Long Beach Island, Atlantic City and Cape May County.
An analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy has forecast that if that area is developed to maximum potential, turbine fields would generate up to 3,400 megawatts, enough to power 1.2 million homes, said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., a renewable-energy booster and ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals.
But the closest locations of some of those lease blocks – within seven miles of beaches – gives pause to David Mizrahi, vice president of research for New Jersey Audubon, who’s done extensive research on the potential effects of wind turbines on migratory birds.
“I see that as a problem,” said Mizrahi, who did studies when the Atlantic County Utilities Authority built its monumental 380-foot-high onshore turbines in Atlantic City. He’s concerned that locations closer to shore could harm migratory birds. According to an 2013 article on Smithsonian.com, between 140,000 and 328,000 birds die each year from collisions with wind turbines.
The department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will manage the commercial leasing, in what supporters say could be a major step forward for wind power development. The bureau in May said it will supply up to $47 million for mid-Atlantic wind-power development, including the Fishermen’s Energy pilot project, five turbines that would be built in state waters off Atlantic City.
But the Fishermen’s Energy has been rejected by the state Board of Public Utilities, which contends its analysis of the project’s finances shows it would be a bad deal for New Jeresey electric ratepayers. The prospect of leases going to auction could pressure New Jersey government to step up its involvment, said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey, a pro-wind group that with the National Wildlife Foundation recently published a report urging East Coast states to do more.
“This federal act really greases the wheels,” O’Malley said. “This clearly shows there’s nothing holding us back except for the offshore wind rules” that need to be completed by the BPU, he added.
“This is a good sign for New Jersey supporting wind energy. The next step we’d like to see is the rules for the funding mechanism,” said Rhonda Jackson, a spokeswoman for Fishermen’s Energy, which is appealing its BPU rejection.
In its report, the National Wildlife Foundation cited government estimates that full development of offshore wind farms could yield 16,249 megawatts for 5 million homes – roughly the population of New Jersey and South Carolina combined.
Still, the coming of wind energy is viewed skeptically by many in the fishing industry. Fishermen’s Energy was capitalized by a number of New Jersey seafood businesses, but other captains worry that wind farms will interfere with their industry or shut them out entirely.
Early in the first months of the Obama administration, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came to Atlantic City and pledged to commit federal resources to wind energy development. In the years that followed, the bureau did extensive environmental work, such as tracking whale migrations through wind-rich bands of ocean. But it has been difficult to get solid information on bird patterns – although it’s known from bird counts that about 1 million birds of all species pass the New Jersey coast at the height of migration, Mizrahi said.
Visual effects of turbines closest to land have been a persistent worry of Shore skeptics, also. A study by the Argonne National Laboratory of wind turbines in United Kingdom waters reported that under favorable viewing conditions, turbines are visible to the unaided eye at distances greater than 26 miles and blade movement could be seen at distances up to 24 miles.
That’s a concern of Long Beach Township Mayor James Mancini, who also worries that the federal government could restrict sport or recreational fishing near the turbine. “I’m all for alternative energy as long as it makes sense. However, if the federal government is going to be leasing something that is going to be eye pollution to Long Beach Township, then we should get some kind of host fee for obstructing our view,” Mancini said.
But Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck had a more positive view.
“We talked about this years ago. Personally, I have no problem with them (turbines) if they make an efficient amount of electricity. It’s something we should have,” said Huelsenbeck. “I spend my winter time out West and they have literally hundreds of wind turbines out there and they seem to do all right.”
The mayor does not think the turbines will have an adverse effect on marine life. However, he cautioned that cables bringing power from the turbines to the mainland would have to be buried.
“A few years ago, we were contacted by one of the companies and I talked to a couple mayors and we made it clear that we would oppose any kind of power lines to the mainland. The wind turbine makes electricity and it has got to be sent over some conduit – but it will have to be buried,” Huelsenbeck said.
So far, the government’s wind-energy initiative for the Atlantic coast has led to five commercial wind-energy leases being awarded. The Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound off Massachusetts and an area off Delaware were awarded noncompetitive leases. Three competive leases, two in New England and one off Virginia, went for about $5.4 million to leases 277,550 acres, according to the Department of Interior. Cape Wind is to start construction of its 468-megawatt array in 2015 as is a smaller 30-megawatt project near Block Island.
In announcing the lease openings, Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said long discussions between the federal and state governments and other players went into delineating the most logical places for wind power placement.
“The key to responsible offshore development is substantial stakeholder engagement to identify and address any concerns early in the process,” said Cruickshank. “Members of the New Jersey Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force have demonstrated leadership and foresight in making sure that the wind-energy planning process considers input from many important stakeholders, including industry, environmental organizations and the maritime community.”
After formal publication of the proposal in the Federal Register on Monday, there will be a 60-day public comment period ending Sept. 19, after which a date for the bidding will be announced, Interior officials say.
Contributing: Stephanie Loder
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