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OC sows doubt on offshore wind plan

OCEAN CITY – A plan for massive wind turbines off the coast received pushback at a recent Ocean City Council meeting, in which a council member questioned its impact on the local tourism economy.

“I’m as green as the next guy. I want green energy, OK? But I do not want to mess with a formula that has worked here for 100 years,” said Councilman Michael DeVlieger.

Kris Ohleth, a spokeswoman for the energy company Ørsted, gave a presentation at the Dec. 4 council meeting, outlining the plans for Ocean Wind, a massive wind energy project planned 15 miles off the New Jersey coast, running roughly from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor.

It’s part of a plan by Gov. Phil Murphy to move New Jersey to entirely renewable sources of energy by 2050 and greatly reduce carbon emissions.

The Ocean Wind project plans 99 wind turbines off the coast, each more than 900 feet from the water surface to the highest point of the spinning blades. They will be visible from the beaches of Cape May County.

It’s set to be the largest offshore wind farm in the nation when completed, with the state in the process of taking proposals for a second project off the coast.

“This is a project, as a Jersey girl, that is, frankly, very near and dear to my heart,” Ohleth said. “We’ll create a significant amount of construction jobs as we build this project and power over half-a-million New Jersey homes with clean energy.”

DeVlieger had doubts, as he made clear at the meeting. Other members of the seven-person council indicated they would take some convincing before supporting the project.

Council passed a resolution in support of offshore wind, a vote which DeVlieger said he wishes he could take back.

Ørsted plans to ask the council for an ordinance, allowing the use of rights of way to bring the power ashore. The company is considering three potential sites to bring the wind-generated power into the grid, and into homes: The former Oyster Creek nuclear power station, in Ocean County, a site in Atlantic City, and the former B.L. England generating station, in Beesley’s Point.

Upper Township Committee approved ordinances supporting the use of local roads for cables to bring the power to the site.

The municipality supports landing the power at the former plant, which was decommissioned in May 2019. The municipality is considering declaring the site as an area in need of redevelopment.

If Beesley’s Point is chosen as a landing site for wind power, Ocean City will play a major role, Ohleth said. The cable would cross Ocean City’s beach, as well as under streets. Using horizontal directional drilling, the cable would be brought about 30 feet under the beach.

“The idea is to drill the cable under the beach, helping to avoid and minimize potential impact to sensitive coastal areas,” Ohleth said.

The proposed ordinance would allow Ørsted to bring the cable across 35th Street, in essence treating the company in a similar way to public utilities. She said the council would likely be asked to vote on the ordinance, in 2021.

“What happens if we do not? Does the project die?” asked Robert Barr, council president.

“No, the project would not die if you don’t accept the ordinance,” Ohleth said. “We’ll continue to look for ways to make the project work.”

According to City Attorney Dorothy McCrosson, the request for an ordinance led Mayor Jay Gillian’s administration to request the company make a presentation to the council. She said the administration had the proposed ordinance for a couple of months but did not think the council had enough information to consider it.

DeVlieger said he would need to see more of a local benefit from the project before he supports ripping up the city’s streets.

“The folks who voted this through were largely North Jersey voters, and yet they put the wind farm in South Jersey. They put it where we have a highly sensitive and highly profitable real estate and tourism space,” he said, at the meeting.

The project will cost more than $1 billion and will end up costing electricity ratepayers more than power from other sources, he said.

“There are no savings for the folks that are going to be looking at these things,” DeVlieger continued. He also suggested the jobs created by the project are unlikely to go to Ocean City residents.

Each member of the council said they would research the issue further, and that they wanted more information.

“It opened my eyes to a lot of things,” said Councilwoman Karen Bergman about DeVlieger’s comments.

Councilman Keith Hartzell asked if people would be able to see one or two of the wind turbines from the beach.

“You’ll be looking at 99 of them,” Ohleth said. Someone on the beach, in Ocean City, would be able to see the turbines to the north and south, not just those directly offshore. Graphic representations posted to Ocean Wind’s website (oceanwind.com) show a small, spikey forest of wind turbines at the horizon, as seen from the beach at 5th Street, in Ocean City.

Councilman Peter Madden said it would be “a mess,” while Barr expressed disappointment that Ohleth did not have more detailed answers for DeVlieger.

“When you engage early, you don’t have all the answers,” Ohleth said. She noted there remain two years of public comment on the proposal as it moves through the state and federal permitting process.

Residents also spoke against the proposal.

“It’s not going to be small. It’s going to be enormous,” said one resident, stating that it would impact the views from $6 million beach houses.

“The people who have come here for 100 years, how do we know they’re going to want to look at windmills vs. something else? Why should we, as a community, take that risk? I see no reason why,” DeVlieger said.

In introducing New Jersey’s energy master plan, in January, Murphy warned about the impact of climate change, reportedly describing it as a direct threat to the state. Sea level rise poses a serious threat to the future of the Jersey Shore, he contends.