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Offshore wind allotments prompt strong reaction from proponents, opponents

The LBI Coalition of Wind Without Impact is pursing all avenues to stop the proposed Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind planned off the coast of Long Beach Island after the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities announced it had awarded the project 1,510 MW of capacity. The BPU’s June 30 decision also granted 1,148 MW to Ørsted’s Ocean Wind II project.

Bob Stern, former director of environmental compliance for the U.S. Department of Energy and a founding member of the coalition, called the Atlantic Shores project “ill conceived” and said, “The state of New Jersey and the federal government are pushing (it) through, despite the availability of a much more appropriate site further out from our beaches, with less environmental impact, and greater energy-generating potential.”

Coalition leaders are advocating for officials to consider Hudson South Call, located 30 to 57 miles off the coast, as an alternative to the Atlantic Shores site off the coast of LBI. That proposed lease area is 10 miles off Barnegat Light and less than 9 miles off Holgate. Hudson South Call has more wind energy than the current project area and has already been identified by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as suitable for wind energy development. The federal agency is proceeding with leases there.

Proponents of offshore wind disagree.

“In the middle of a heat wave, the timing is perfect for the NJBPU to double down on offshore wind and expand New Jersey’s commitment to clean, renewable energy and reduce our climate and air pollution from our power sector,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “New Jersey has been sitting on a gold mine of offshore wind that has been untapped off the shore. There is still a long way to go to make offshore wind a reality of the Jersey Shore, but today’s successful bids means we have made two big steps to a clean, renewable energy future.”

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.

Just south of the proposed Atlantic Shores wind farm is the Ocean Wind project, owned and developed by Ørsted with the support of PSEG. That wind farm is expected to be operational in 2024 and would produce enough electricity to power more than 500,000 homes, according to the Ørsted website.

Drew Tomkins, director of policy for New Jersey Audubon, said transiting to clean energy is critical to fighting climate change, a major threat to wildlife.

“We look forward to working with companies to ensure their projects are designed, built and managed in a responsible fashion that will minimize impacts to our treasured natural resources, including birds, while effectively generating large amounts of clean, renewable power,” Tomkins said.

Amanda Devecka-Rinear, executive director of New Jersey Resource Project, said responsible offshore wind development that benefits the community will provide opportunities for the shore region and South Jersey.

“We’re already living with flooding – we need to act now to improve our infrastructure and move to renewable energy like offshore wind. It’s critical that all working-class New Jerseyans benefit from offshore wind,” she said. “No one gets left behind: Black, brown, or white.”

The LBI Coalition of Wind Without Impact had asked the BPU to defer its decision until an environmental impact statement was completed. The reason for the deferment request was so the agency could see the impact of projects.

Instead, according to Stern, the BPU spent a significant amount of time congratulating itself even though there was no discussion of any of the environmental and shore community economic impact issues raised by the coalition and other organizations included as written material in the case docket.

“Notwithstanding this, do not be discouraged. The real decision here is the federal government, through the Interior Department,” he said in an email after the BPU announced its decision. “As we have said, we will pursue all avenues, including legal intervention, to (getting) the turbines moved farther out. The more that government officials ignore factual evidence put before them and make arbitrary decisions, the stronger our case actually gets.”

Stern said in asking for the deferment from the BPU, they also asked if a decision had to be made now that the scope of the project be limited to less than 500 MW. That number is based on applying the same inner area turbine exclusion zone the BOEM gave to New York to mitigate visible impact, he said. The coalition also asked for an outer area turbine exclusion zone to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from disorienting turbine noise as they migrate.

Catherine Bowes, offshore wind program director at the National Wildlife Federation, applauded Gov. Phil Murphy and the BPU for “their persistent efforts to realize the potential of responsibly developed offshore wind power that benefits both people and wildlife. We will keep working with project developers, partner organizations, and federal, state, and community leaders to ensure that these projects advance good jobs, abundant wildlife, and environmental justice.”