The Danish firm Orsted is currently seeking federal permits for its planned 99 turbine wind farm 15 miles off the southern New Jersey coast. Public meetings held by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held in April did little to calm the growing skepticism surrounding the project.
It is critical that this project only go forward with total transparency concerning its economic and environmental impacts. The project must serve as a model for renewable energy initiatives if we are to gain the level of public support so necessary for a long-term battle with climate change.
Cape May County’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and commercial fishing. Nothing is more important than our coastline and the ecosystems that maintain it. The issue here is so much more than the potential for visible turbines on a clear day.
This is about the trust we can have in our public agencies and the private companies they team with to pursue renewable energy in ways that are totally transparent, allowing for ample and complete public consideration and voice. To do less will damage future initiatives by undermining public trust.
The Orsted project, Ocean Wind, is the wind energy initiative most imminent in terms of actual construction, but it is to be followed by several other wind energy initiatives slated for the country’s east coast. The Biden Administration is already considering expansion of the coastal areas approved for such initiatives. Ocean Wind is featured as an example of Governor Murphy’s goal for moving the New Jersey power grid off of a dependence on fossil fuels by 2050.
As political leaders place greater expectations on the coastal wind power initiatives, it should increase not decrease the need for transparency. The importance of hitting calendar targets cannot be allowed to shortchange appropriate impact studies and public disclosure.
Already conflicting information is flooding the internet as public groups, non-profit environmental organizations, and local business coalitions present opposing views. Save Our Shores argues that the turbines pose a threat to migratory birds and marine mammals. The Sierra Club says those opposing the wind farms are doing so based on bad science. The Garden State Seafood Association contends that the location studies did not consider the potential negative impact on commercial fishing.
The public cannot be left to sort this out on its own. Our elected officials have an obligation to provide open communication and access to information pro and con. Might these renewable energy initiatives come at an unavoidable cost? If so, our elected officials owe the public full disclosure.
With governments and automakers promoting electric cars, the news outlets now are reporting the many potential pitfalls of electric vehicles in terms of their impact on the environment. This does not mean that we should forgo efforts to make efficient electric vehicles. It does say that the New York Times and other media outlets should not be the sole source for public information about the dangers and the choices involved in dealing with them.
Government will not lead the country on the wholesale changes needed to combat climate change without broad and deep public support. The way to get that public support is through transparency, public involvement and public education.
It is time for the state to abandon the role of cheerleader for the wind energy initiative like Ocean Wind and become the honest broker that ensures that the right impact studies have been done and that the pros and cons are public information.
There will surely be costs associated with the push for alternative energy. The public has a right to know what they are. Without transparency the struggle with climate change will surely be lost on the shoals of distrust.
Cape Issues was established in 2008 as a non-partisan volunteer group to advocate for the betterment of life in Cape May County. Contact us at email@example.com.
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