Four-decade scallop fisherman and Viking Village fleet owner Jim Gutowski laid out the scope in size of one offshore wind farm turbine as a backdrop to his talk on “The Impact of Offshore Wind Farms on Our Commercial Fishing Industry” at the June 19 meeting of the Barnegat Light Taxpayer’s Association.
“They’re going to be a little over five times the height of the (Barnegat) lighthouse. The tripod that that’s going to sit upon is about a block (in size). So, we’re talking about massive structures. The span of those blades on those turbines, they’re going to be about two football fields from tip to tip.”
Gutowski voiced concern about impact on commercial seafood catch and other sea life of a proposed 200- to 250-turbine array in an area of the ocean stretching from Barnegat Light to Atlantic City. The project is awaiting final approval.
The Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind lease is located on 183,353 acres in what he noted is a “flourishing fishing ground that you’ve had fishermen for the last 20 years break their backs to sustain.” He was referring to research and alterations that the scallop industry has made to successfully preserve a harvest for future years.
The Joint Council of Taxpayers Associations of Long Beach Island compiled a Frequently Asked Questions summary of the wind farm project 10 miles east of Long Beach Island, which is on the website barnegatlighttaxpayer.org under the subheading “Weather and the Environment.” The BLTA has 573 member households, but the website is accessible to the public.
“Everybody can draw their own impression about it,” said taxpayer’s association Vice President Dr. Rich Brodman at the beginning of the outdoor meeting. “From my impression, I think there are a lot of unknowns about this project, and I think it’s moving very quickly. We have a very important commercial fishing industry here, and we support it; this is a very important part of our community.”
Said Gutowski, “I think most all of us support renewable energy; I do, a hundred percent. But what are the tradeoffs and what are we getting for massive geographical shutdowns in the Atlantic Ocean? I think that makes a question for all of us: What are we going to get for all these windmills and what are the downfalls? And I think we have to really think through this.”
Unknowns have been admitted by federal sources, as the Joint Council of Taxpayers document quotes.
“We realize that this is a relatively new industry in U.S. waters and we still don’t fully understand how offshore wind farms are going to impact fishing operations, protected species, our essential fish habitat and our ability to complete our own surveys and assessments,” said Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in October 2020.
Gutowski asked, “As far as wind turbines go, how is that going to affect migration patterns with marine mammals, with fish? How is it going to work with scallop larvae and recruitment, and where that comes down in the stream of tide, how that sets on the bottom? How does it affect fish population; how does it affect fluke and how they live? I don’t think we really understand it.”
Proposed lease areas in Hudson Canyon North and South are “concerning to scallopers because a large part of our biomass is in these two areas, and we have relied on these two areas over the past 10 years in the realm of millions of dollars of revenue for the sea scallop industry on the East Coast,” he said. “If we put turbines in here, my recollection would be they’re basically going to become closures.”
Gutowski traveled to England and Scotland about five years ago to meet with commercial fishermen affected by wind turbines and hear their experiences. The turbines there were 3-megawatt turbines, as opposed to the 10 to 11 mw turbines planned here, he said.
“We had the opportunity spend some time in Aberdeen, Scotland and Ramsgate, England, and we got to actually go out into these wind fields and speak with fishermen and managers first hand to see how they were affected – can you fish inside these; what is the reality of them – and we came away with quite a bit of information,” Gutowski relayed.
“Unfortunately, my point of view was it was a lot of negative information, about fish stocks, about migration patterns and a plethora of things. But it was good to get a chance to see the folks who are dealing with these in real time.”
Asked by an audience member for details about any pros and cons of wind power that he heard there, Gutowski said, “From a fisherman’s standpoint I don’t think I heard too many pros. I heard tons of cons. I heard that ‘fish used to live here and now they don’t.’ I heard that ‘they told us we can fish inside of there and now we can’t.’ I heard ‘we can fish inside of them, but there’s no way we can do it.’ I saw Ramsgate in England, that was a bustling fishing port, and now it’s kind of a ghost town.”
Commercial scallopers have had the chance to state their case at hearings, he said, but he questions the result.
“We have interacted with them quite a bit. We have two organizations, an organization called ROTA, which is the Responsible Offshore Wind Development Alliance, and we have the science arm of that, ROSA. So we’re working hard; we’re spending a lot of money to just try to coexist and get the best we can get.
“But unfortunately for me, I have sat at a lot of these meetings and fishermen speak and have input, (and) I believe it falls on deaf ears. And they just kind of check off the boxes and say, ‘we talked with those guys’ … without really using our input.”
Noting that wind array proposals off Long Island were held off this year, he said, “We’re saying if you could push those off, we need to push these off, because as Rich has alluded to, there’s a ton of unknowns. We have what I think is a race to wind energy off the coast, and I believe it’s driven by the states, and politics. I would just hope that we could slow down, make sure we get it right and do the right thing.”
Gutowski touched on other areas of concern, including traffic safety for boats and rescue helicopters, questions about cut-off monopiles on the bottom of the ocean after decommissioning in 30 years, and any possible impact on sea turtle migration patterns.
“We have had some success through the companies where we have been able to draw some transit lanes … we can carve out a mile or two wide so that boats can navigate safely in a northeast direction or a southeast direction just for safety reasons,” he noted.
Questions from the audience led to the taxpayers association promising to forward any information it gets about when and where the next public hearings on wind power are held.
One taxpayer noted that wind arrays “cost a ton of money. How much of that is funded by taxpayer money, either through direct grants or tax abatements, and what is the benefit to residents here of Barnegat Light because it’s in our backyard?”
Another property owner said, “We’re late to the party; do we have any leverage at all?”
Gutowski answered, “Get involved. Every time that anything happens, BOEM (federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) has to hold public hearings. You’ve got to pay attention; you’ve got to dig in. I’ve been to a ton of meetings, and there’s eight people there. If people start showing up in droves, you’re going to have power – the squeaky wheel is going to get some grease. We can make a difference.”
Taxpayers were also urged to do their own online research. The Joint Council of Taxpayers Associations of Long Beach Island intended to be objective in its FAQ paper online that cites various sources. A few notations are below.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for creating the leased areas for development “after carefully analyzing many factors such as population to be served by the leased area, demand for electricity, wind speed, vessel traffic and location of the shipping lanes, commercial fishing grounds, water depth, and marine uses inside the area.”
“According to the Atlantic Shores website, the entire leased area has the potential to generate over 3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power nearly 1.5 million homes. New Jersey’s goal for offshore wind energy production is 7.5 gigawatts of energy by 2030.”
“Formed in December 2018, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind is a 50/50 partnership between Shell New Energies US LLC and EDF Renewables North America. It was formed to build and maintain a wind farm off the coast of Long Beach Island, the second wind farm in New Jersey.”
Under the FAQ of what the Atlantic Shores project is not, is this answer: “The Atlantic Shores project is not the Ocean Wind project, which is another planned wind farm located just south of the Atlantic Shores leased area. The state of New Jersey awarded this lease area to Ørsted in 2018, two years before Atlantic Shores received its own award. Ocean Wind is owned and being developed by Ørsted and PSEG in a 75/25 split. Expected to be operational in 2024, Ocean Wind would produce enough electricity to power more than 500,000 homes, according to the Ørsted website.”
Next month, on July 24, the BLTA will host Bob Stern, who will present research on possible implications of offshore wind farms on coastal real estate values.
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