Rick Robinson likens the idea of building up to 98 wind turbines on the ocean horizon to placing them on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The Seven Mile Island homeowner was among numerous people who spoke this week at a federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management virtual hearing on a proposed wind farm 15 miles off Atlantic City.
In addition to ruining a magnificent view, the 850-foot turbines will endanger wildlife, scar coastal land, scare away fish, interfere with shipping operations and raise electric bills, according to about 20 speakers in opposition.
Others at the hearing spoke in favor of the Ocean Wind farm. They touted wind energy as a way to bring abundant and clean energy to New Jersey, while helping fight climate change and creating jobs.
“Rather than continue down the path toward catastrophic sea level rise and flooding,” said Hayley Berliner of Environment New Jersey, “we can instead start to mitigate that by replacing our fossil-fuel power with clean, renewable offshore wind power.”
Ocean Wind is expected to generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 500,000 homes. The developer is Denmark-based Ørsted, a major player on the global wind farm scene. Ørsted is planning to have the wind farm operating by the end of 2024.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first of three virtual sessions scheduled for this month; the second was Thursday, and the third is 5:30 p.m. April 20. The hearings are part of BOEM’s research in preparing an environmental impact statement.
Public comments, which were limited to three minutes each, followed nearly two hours of reports by officials from BOEM, the state Bureau of Public Utilities, the state Department of Environmental Protection and Ørsted.
Officials spent considerable time on the minutiae of the multiyear permitting process involving multiple government agencies. Later, in responding to concerns expressed during the hearing, officials advised people to consult corporate and government websites.
Public comments, such as Robinson’s, were typically more colorful, frank and emotional.
“I think the Atlantic Ocean, when I stand on the beach, is the Grand Canyon of the Eastern Seaboard,” said Robinson. “I’ve stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, and I’m just as much in awe when I stand at the ocean. To take that view, to take that incredible natural resource, and industrialize it, is nothing short of sinful.”
Asked how much regulators considered the possibility of marred beach views when establishing the areas suitable to wind farms, BOEM’s project coordinator for Ocean Wind’s lease area, Will Waskes said, “Surprisingly, visual impact concerns were not heavily raised during the planning process for the New Jersey lease areas. This may be a result of turbine generators at the time that were proposed and actually available on the market being much smaller in size than those that are currently available and being proposed (for Ocean Wind),” he said. “At the time I think the largest turbine that was even being contemplated during the New Jersey planning period was a 5-megawatt machine. But those visual impacts will be fully analyzed in the (Environmental Impact Statement).”
Saying offshore wind farms will “forever reshape our Eastern Seaboard,” U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, joined representatives of the fishing industry and tourism interests in asking for changes in the way wind farms are approved.
“I have spoken with many fishermen, and they continue to feel disenfranchised in this process by both their government and the corporations that now own their established fishing grounds,” Van Drew said in a Wednesday letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and BOEM Director Amanda Lefton.
Van Drew said Thursday in a phone interview that he wants BOEM to ensure fishing and tourism interests have a say in how and where the farms are developed.
“It’s not that I am against wind energy,” he said. “I just don’t want to destroy one industry and replace it with another.”
More needs to be known about how building the wind farms will affect important fishing areas and wildlife habitat, Van Drew said.
Ocean areas such as the Cold Pool in the Mid-Atlantic Bight are home to some of the most important fisheries in the world and generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in economic impact, Van Drew said in the letter.
“These environs reside directly in several of the currently established lease areas. … Collaterally crippling prosperous industries is unacceptable and cannot be our path,” Van Drew wrote.
He also asked that the federal government provide financial compensation for groups and communities that suffer a loss of revenue due to offshore wind development.
“The United States can and should become a world leader in renewable energy. Offshore wind manufacturing can lead to thousands of new jobs, and shifting to renewable energy will help reduce our carbon emissions,” Van Drew said. “We must remain clear-eyed and execute the offshore wind rollout with serious consideration of local ecosystems and communities. This will forever reshape our Eastern Seaboard, and we must ensure it is done correctly.”
During the hearing Tuesday, some local residents expressed concern over the distant roots of Ocean Wind’s developer, as well as the influence of Gov. Phil Murphy, who has set ambitious goals for wind energy in the Garden State.
“I personally strongly oppose the authorization of our New Jersey waters and foreign takeover of our energy systems via executive order,” said Greg Cudnik, a fisherman and manager of his family’s bait and tackle business, Fisherman’s Headquarters, in Ship Bottom.
Direct questions from the public sometimes elicited long and not-so-simple answers.
“Has our New Jersey coastline been sold to a foreign country?” asked Suzanne Hornick, of Ocean City.
BOEM’s Waskes cited various rules and regulations before noting, “There is a U.S. connection.”
A local official speaking in opposition to Ocean Wind was Ocean City Councilman Mike DeVlieger.
“I believe the wind turbines are an existential threat to the species off our coasts, in particular the Atlantic sturgeon … the right whale … and the horseshoe crab,” DeVlieger said.
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti Post contributed to this report.