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Like wind project, critiques flawed

As a new but fast-growing organization seeking only to preserve the natural beauty of our seascape from the sight of offshore wind turbines, the LBI Coalition for Wind Without Impact was very surprised to see the vehement attacks on us in two critical pieces in the July 14 SandPaper (“Lost Tourism Claims – Hysteria, Not Fact” and “Economic Studies Differ on Offshore Wind Power”).

The first piece, an opinion column, speaks to the need for a balanced discussion based on science and facts, without bias. We could not agree more. It mentions a previous forum held and website content created to do that. Unfortunately, neither was/is balanced because they were/are dominated by those in favor of the project, with virtually no information presented by those in opposition.

The column states that the LBI coalition’s “myopic” concerns with preserving the Island should be dismissed because of the project’s benefit to climate change. If only that were the case.

Sea level rise results from heat transferred to the oceans and ice caps from the Earth’s temperature rise and the time afterward. A slightly lower temperature rise from the minor greenhouse gas reductions from this project and a little longer wait gets you the same heat transferred and the same exact sea level rise. Based on data from the Fifth Assessment Report by the International Panel on Climate Change, the only sea level rise benefit from this project will be a minor 17-day delay in future sea level rise. It will not prevent or reduce future sea level rise at all.

The column impugns a North Carolina State University study that found that 54 percent of people surveyed who previously rented ocean-view and oceanfront properties would not return if turbines were in view. It says it was not scientifically sound and exaggerated results by showing visuals of turbines 8 miles offshore, closer than the 10 miles for the LBI project.

That study was done by the NC State’s Center for Environmental and Resource Economic Policy, which performs numerous research studies funded by many government agencies. All three authors of the study hold doctoral degrees in economics. Some have served on numerous panels and boards advising federal and state agencies. The assertion that their professional work is somehow inferior to the opinions of those “experts” cited by the author, with no expertise in this area, is astounding.

Regarding the 8 miles, those surveyed were shown 5-megawatt turbines, which are about 60 percent as tall as the 13.6-megawatt turbines to be placed off LBI. That is visually comparable to the larger LBI turbines 13.5 miles out. Since the turbines here will be closer than 13.5 miles, if anything, the visualizations shown in the study underestimated the visual impact that will occur at LBI, and the negative responses from the study’s participants.

In the second piece, an article, the same mistake is made in using study data results of an 11.6-percent trip loss to the Island from turbines 10 miles away. But 6 miles is relevant distance to use from the study because, here again, 5-megawatt turbines were used, which would be visually equivalent to 13.6-megawatt turbines at 10 miles, the closest project distance. Using the 6-mile data, 44 percent of those surveyed would have a worse experience at the shore with turbines visible, and 19 percent would not visit that shore at all, impacts that are quite severe.

So used correctly, the Delaware and the North Carolina studies are consistent in identifying severe local economic impacts from visible wind turbines, in contradiction to the authors’ accusations of cherry-picking studies and bias.

The first critique claims that the electric rate increases predicted by the Beacon Hill Institute are “dangerous” because electric rates are regulated by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and we need not worry about business and job losses from higher rates. But the BPU’s own estimate of electric rate increase from this 1,510-megawatt project is 2.3 percent, not far from a Beacon Hill Institute of estimate of 2.9 percent. For the full 7,500-megawatt offshore wind program, those electric rate increases would be 12 and 15 percent respectively. Actual increases could be much larger depending on the degree that our natural gas plants need to be kept as back-up for intermittent wind power.

It’s very hard to see how “regulation” by the BPU will save the day here on your electric bill, when the BPU itself is actively promoting higher-cost electric generation projects.

The first critique also raises questions about job losses and gains from the project. The BPU strategic plan estimated new full-time jobs from this project between 289 and 859. In June, the BPU projected 2,025 full-time jobs created, which conflicts with its strategic plan. However, even the higher number would be outweighed by longer-term economic impact and 3,046 job losses from higher electric rates predicted by the Beacon Hill study, adjusted to a 1,510-megawatt project. In addition, there will be losses in shore tourism revenues and associated local jobs due to the visible turbine impact.

The first critique offers an upcoming environmental impact statement (EIS) as an opportunity to address concerns. But all the key factors have already been decided. The location was decided in 2010 by a state-led task force with no public input and no consideration of visible turbine impact. There will be no alternate locations considered in the EIS. The size and number of turbines were determined by a recent BPU decision. The spacing of the turbines is determined by engineering practice. So, while the EIS will allow the public to finally comment, there isn’t much left to comment about or change.

This exceptionally close-to-shore project will undeniably change the natural seascape and character of the Island. It has other fatal flaws, including its impact on endangered whales and our own piping plover, as shown in the slide presentation on our website, savelbi.org, under the caption “The Real Story.”

We’re just looking for some common sense here. Move the turbines farther out where they can’t be seen. Those who want it can still have plenty of wind power, and we all can keep our magnificent Island seascape.

Bob Stern is president of the LBI Coalition for Wind Without Impact. He previously managed the office within the federal Department of Energy overseeing the environmental impacts of its projects.