With the Atlantic Shores Wind Farm proposed off the coast of Long Beach Island before the state Board of Public Utilities for the right to generate electricity, there’s a growing movement on the Island seeking the opportunity for more public input from officials and taxpayers. The BPU is expected to have its decision in June.
“We need to have a voice so unintended consequences don’t negatively impact” the Island, Surf City Councilman Peter Hartney said last week.
His comments came during the Feb. 10 borough council meeting, where he brought the issue to light, nearly four months after first bringing up concerns of a possible adverse impact, including shoreline visibility to LBI communities. Since then, Hartney said, he’s had an opportunity to question community members and found the concerns are the same across the board.
Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind is poised to build the second wind farm in the state, in part off the coast of Long Beach Island. The closest western, or in-shore, boundary of the lease is 10 miles from Barnegat Light and 9 miles from Holgate. The lease area has the potential to generate 3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy. Atlantic Shores plans to start onshore construction of substations in 2024 and offshore construction by 2025. The project is a 50-50 partnership between Shell New Energies US LLC and EDF Renewables North America. It was formed in December 2018 to co-develop nearly 183,353 acres of leased sea area on the Outer Continental Shelf, located within the New Jersey Wind Energy Area.
While “the leasing is beyond our wheelhouse,” Hartney said the council can ask for the public to have more input, and he presented a motion to approve a resolution to send a letter to the appropriate authorities for just that. It was unanimously approved.
Also Feb. 10, a call for advocacy for towns and their taxpayers regarding the wind farm proposal came up at the Barnegat Light Borough Council meeting.
Mayor Kirk Larson has been following the matter as both an elected official and a commercial fishing fleet owner. The difference is the fishing industry has paid lobbyists working on its behalf, but there is no such entity for municipalities or their taxpayers, “to let us know what’s going on,” he said.
“We have planning boards in town, we have zoning boards and everything, that we (use to) watch out for our town, but we don’t have anybody to watch this,” he said. “We don’t pay an engineer to watch this.”
Councilwoman Dorothy Reynolds, who chairs the beaches and parks committee, agreed. “We need somebody who’s looking out for our concerns.”
Barbara Truncellito, president of the Barnegat Light Taxpayers’ Association, said there was a need for fact-finding because there still seemed to be “unanswered questions” regarding the proposal.
Her comments stem from an online forum where the Joint Council of Taxpayers’ Associations of Long Beach Island, of which the Barnegat Light association is a member, had the chance to question Atlantic Shore representatives Feb. 3.
Although the meeting with the company was “professional,” Truncellito said it left questions unanswered. “In talking to taxpayer association counterparts,” she said, “we all have a lot of questions. I wasn’t happy with the answers, they were very manicured, and it was more marketing than it was anything tangible. We try to get good answers before we walk up on the beach and see something we’re not happy with.”
Hartney said in his research on the topic he found similar concerns in other coastal areas, from North Carolina to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island is the first wind farm in the country.
A recent study by the University of Rhode Island found offshore wind farms “detract significantly from the boating experience,” according to a Feb. 1 media release from the university on the study.
Tracey Dalton, the URI professor of marine affairs who headed up the survey, said most respondents “preferred not to go boating close to turbines.”
“We’re interested in what happens when you put a new structure in place in the ocean and how it impacts people that have historically and culturally used that space,” Dalton said in the Feb. 1 press release, adding the wind farm is close to shore, just 3 miles southeast of Block Island. “As we think about where we’re going to put wind farms, we have to be careful because we’re going to displace users.”
The URI study found boaters “didn’t mind being far from turbines, so as long as there’s not a wall of turbines stretched across the ocean, they can move away from them,” according to Dalton. “But managers should be aware of the heterogeneity within the boating population. Fishermen feel differently than those not fishing.”
Back on Long Beach Island, Truncellito said there are a lot of unanswered questions about the proposed Atlantic Shores project. “It might be helpful if there was one comprehensive study done and given to all of the homeowners and taxpayers on the Island. We’re not sure what the impact is going to be on taxpayers yet, (but) our electric bill is not going down. There is still a lot of information that is not available.”
Larson ended the Barnegat Light discussion by saying he would make phone calls inquiring about an attorney who could represent the towns’ interests on the Island, if hired.
On Tuesday, Doug Copeland, development manager for Atlantic Shores, said via email the company is “eager to hear the concerns of LBI residents, which is why we have held two public meetings on our project focused on recreational fishermen and seek out many opportunities to connect with elected leaders and LBI community groups. Atlantic Shores strongly believes in a community-centered approach, where collaboration, transparency and public input are paramount.”
He called the Atlantic Shores project “an important part of transitioning the state to clean energy and fighting climate change. This project also brings tremendous economic benefit to the state by attracting manufacturers, creating thousands of well-paid local jobs and a progressive innovation program that will help the state become a green energy leader.”
The turbine layout and project size are dependent on the continuing state procurement process, Copeland added.
“We plan to proactively share information as it becomes available with local communities to familiarize them with what they can expect,” he said. “We will also be hosting a series of open houses this summer where residents can learn more about the project and have any questions they may have answered.”
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