The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved and published online the New Jersey Offshore Wind Strategic Plan on Sept. 9. The 500-plus-page document is the state’s comprehensive map for achieving 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035. It makes recommendations on establishing an offshore wind industry that achieves net economic benefits while also protecting the environment, commercial and recreational fishing interests, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
While developing the state’s offshore wind resources, the state Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with identifying and prioritizing the research and monitoring the industry with ongoing habitat surveys as well as fish and wildlife studies.
Chief to the success of the industry is the offshore wind renewable energy certificate (OREC) funding mechanism, the method by which New Jersey ratepayers will fund offshore wind projects and how revenues from these projects will be refunded and delivered to ratepayers. OREC funding mechanism rules mandate that the OREC price reflect the total capital and operating costs for an offshore wind project, offset by any state or federal tax or production credits and any other subsidies or grants, as approved by the board.
The strategic plan was developed by Ramboll U.S. Corp. with extensive public stakeholder input.
The plan finds that there is a low potential for conflicts between offshore wind and social uses such as boating. Most lease and “call areas” (potential areas to be developed) are situated to avoid existing shipping lanes. The most problematic time will be during construction and deconstruction of the wind turbines, which have a lifespan of 25 years.
Areas of military use also overlap portions of lease areas but these, the report says, can be mitigated.
The herculean task seems to be coordinating extensive undersea cables with new cables, especially in the areas off of the Atlantic Bight, called Hudson South and Hudson North.
Cables are needed between the monopoles holding up the wind turbines and the offshore substations that stabilize and maximize the voltage generated by the wind. These cables are then run to onshore substations. In the case of the Orsted company’s 90-plus monopoles to be built by 2024, fifteen miles off the coast of Atlantic City, a cable will run from substations all the way to the former Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Forked River, crossing Island Beach. Horizontal drilling is to be used to bury cables under sensitive coastal habitat.
The plan also reports on New Jersey’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, described as significant economic drivers for the state. In 2016, using the most recent data available, New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry (without imports) was valued at over $1 billion. Commercial harvest provided 8,244 jobs, generated $737 million in direct sales, $245 million in income, and $352 million in value added to the economy. The most valuable fisheries in New Jersey, based on annual revenue, are Atlantic sea scallop ($83.1 million), squid (shortfin and longfin; $14.5 million), menhaden ($12.9 million), Atlantic surf clam ($11.5 million), blue crab ($8.7 million) and summer flounder ($4.5 million).
According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, there are six primary commercial fishing ports in New Jersey: Atlantic City, Barnegat Light, Belford, Cape May, Point Pleasant and Port Norris.
The strategic plan also addressed recreational fishing and found it provides at least 15,000 jobs and adds $1.7 billion in sales, $0.7 billion in income and $1.1 billion in value added to the economy from millions of anglers and angler trips per year.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, New Jersey’s fishing industries land more than 100 varieties of finfish and shellfish, and the state is a leading supplier of surf clams and ocean quahogs to the nation and to the world.
For that reason the strategic plan looked at each segment of the commercial fishing industry using fishing activity from available vessel monitoring system (VMS) data and evaluation of vessel trip reporting (VTR) data. The plan also looked at older reports to identify patterns or trends. Recreational fisheries were assessed using GIS mapping tools designed to illustrate prime fishing areas, including artificial reefs, and associated species off New Jersey’s coast. These map layers were generated in 2003 and updated in 2018 using information provided by recreational fishing vessel captains and Home Port Charts Inc. fishing charts.
The data showed that the areas of Atlantic sea scallop catches are migrating eastward to deeper and colder waters, and the southernmost leases in the wind study area exhibited little scalloping activity from 2011 through 2016. Management practices and restrictions may have contributed to the inactivity, the plan noted.
Scalloping activities were also conducted during this period in the southern portion of the Hudson South call area, within the entire Hudson North call area, and within portions of the Fairways South and North call areas off Long Island.
Ocean quahog catches also showed a general migration of this fishery to the north and east to deeper waters. The data indicated that for the 2006-2010 period, there were high levels of ocean quahog fishing in the lease area identified as OCS-A 0499 and in a significant portion of the Hudson South call area.
Atlantic surf clam catches between 2006 and 2010 showed high levels in lease area OCS-A 0499 and a significant portion of the Hudson South call area. Medium-high levels of activity were found in the Hudson North call area, Fairways South call area, Fairways North call area and OCS-A 0490.
The report recommends the state “avoid wind development projects in areas where ecological and economically important shellfish beds are prevalent.”
For multi-species groundfish the data indicated that between 2006 and 2010, there were high levels of fishing to the east of the study area (outside the lease areas in the south) but more activity in the Hudson Canyon, partially affecting the area collocated with the Hudson South call area. The Fairways North call area is largely covered by medium-low to medium-high fishing activity. By 2011-2014 and 2015-2016, there was much less fishing for these species in the study area, and the fishing that did occur took place in small areas of the Hudson Canyon and off the south shore of Long Island. The same held true for pots, traps and bottom trawl-type gear fishing.
Monkfish has all but disappeared from the southernmost areas that have been leased for wind, but a high level of activity was seen off northern New Jersey and within the Hudson Canyon, particularly within the Hudson South call area and the northern tip of the Fairways North call area in 2011. Further reductions in monkfish-associated fishing vessel activity was reported in 2015-2016. Fishing with pots, traps, bottom trawl and gill nets also found minimal catches for this fishery in the lease areas and NY Bight call areas.
The 2014-2016 data for pelagic species (herring, mackerel and squid) indicated little fishing activity on the landward side of the continental shelf break and only minor overlap with the southernmost leases in the study area. The western tip of OCS-A 0512 is shown as a high value area for this fishery.
In addition to monetary benefits to the state’s economy, the strategic plan also looked at environmental constraints and possible injuries to wildlife. The report focused on six subgroups: birds, fish, mammals (cetaceans), turtles, benthic (sea floor) invertebrates and inshore habitats.
Potential resource impacts to bats and birds due to strikes with wind turbine blades were found to be minimal as migrations tend to happen closer to shore, except in the Hudson North area. The report also looked at potential harm to marine mammals and sea turtles due to collisions with structures and vessels and injury due to noise during construction while pile driving.
Other changes to wildlife behavior included attraction to structures due to lighting and reef effects and changes in behavior associated with electromagnetic fields from energized transmission cables – some squid and lobsters are repelled while some sharks and rays are attracted but then don’t find the food they thought was there.
Some of the recommendations are to restrict construction activity to daylight hours and avoiding sensitive times of year when whales and turtles are more numerous; use low-intensity lighting, including non-white strobe lighting; install cables deep in the substrate to limit electromagnetic field effects and to limit entanglement with fishing gear; and limit impacts to substrates avoiding aquatic vegetation, lumps and sand ridges.
Noise impacts during pile driving can be limited by using soft/slow start procedures that allow sea creatures to move away from the noise. Another recommendation is to deploy protected species observers during development.
Also needed will be monitoring the structures for invasive species such as zebra mussels, the plan states.
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