CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – They could not all go in to the meeting of the Cape May County Commissioners on Tuesday afternoon, but opponents of a planned offshore wind farm knew they were heard when the members of county government came out to them.
About 50 people gathered outside the county administration building on a sunny spring day, most carrying signs in opposition to wind turbines off the New Jersey coast. Ocean Wind, the furthest along of what could be multiple offshore wind projects, would mean 99 turbines placed 15 miles off the coast, powering more than a half-million homes starting in late 2024.
Danish energy giant Ørsted won the state contract for that project. A public comment period by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on the proposal concludes Thursday.
On Tuesday, the county government approved a resolution stating that Ørsted and partner PSEG failed to communicate with the county and raising concerns about the impact of the proposal on tourism and the commercial fishing industry.
At a workshop meeting earlier in the day, board members heard from representatives of the local fishing industry, including Greg DiDomenico of Lund’s Fisheries near the Cape May Inlet. He said he and others involved in commercial fishing wanted to like the wind power project.
But he argued the project does not take the needs of his industry or the safety of those working on commercial fishing vessels into account.
He and other representatives of the commercial fishing industry told county government that their industry could not coexist with the project as proposed.
“So far, it looks like we are not going to be able to exist within the current size and scale of wind as it is going to be developed,” he said. “The economic impact to the commercial fishing industry would be pretty serious.”
Speaking to those gathered outside before returning to the commissioners meeting, commission Director Gerald Thornton said wind energy will cost consumers more and will not provide many jobs to local residents.
Plans are to land the electricity generated by the wind turbines at the former Oyster Bay nuclear plant in Lacey Township and the former B.L. England power plant in the Beesleys Point section of Upper Township in the north end of Cape May County. One potential plan would see the lines brought under the beach in Ocean City and then to the former coal-fired plant.
“In order to come on shore with these cables, they’ve got to dig a trench 18 feet deep and 12 feet wide, and it will go 15 miles. Now what impact is that going to have on our oceans?” Thornton said.
He said wind power is the costliest means of generating electricity.
Not everyone who turned out opposed wind turbines.
Gretchen Landenburger, of Cape May, supports the project. She and Jody Stewart of the New Jersey Organizing Project said they attended just to observe. After Thornton’s comments, Landenburger spoke with one of the participants.
“Aren’t you worried about the environment?” asked Michelle Gehring. Landenburger said she wants the energy the turbines will produce. Her research indicates they will not harm migrating species, she told Gehring. She added there is not an endless supply of fossil fuels.
“Where do you stand on offshore drilling? Just curious.” Landenburger asked Gehring.
“I mean, we have to dig for oil, and I know that’s the environment, too. But we don’t have those blades right off our shoreline,” Gehring said. She said she is very worried about the local impact of the project.
The proposal has come up against increasingly organized opposition, including from local governments. In Ocean City, members of City Council have expressed deep skepticism about the plan, and local groups have organized against the proposal.
Gov. Phil Murphy has supported the Ocean Wind project as a key part of a plan to wean New Jersey off fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. He and other supporters have cited the impact of rising seas and climate change-driven storms on coastal communities. He and other Democratic leaders have said renewable energy will bring good jobs to the state.
Outside the county government building, Trisha Conte said she is deeply concerned about whales, especially the endangered right whale.
“Windfarms and whales don’t mix,” she said.
She also cited concern for other marine species and the cost of wind-generated power.
Conte, who owns a house in Ocean City and lives in Upper Pittsgrove Township, Salem County, organized the event to support Thornton’s position. She said she wanted him to know the community supports him. She organized the Save Our Shoreline, NJ group.
The approved resolution urges “Orsted, PSEG, and the state of New Jersey to comprehensively and thoughtfully engage community stakeholders to address concerns of the potential detrimental impacts that the ocean wind project may cause to the environment, fishing industry, business community, and residents of Cape May County.”