OCEAN CITY – Mayor Jay Gillian has called on regulators to ensure wind turbines could not be seen from the beach, a change that would require a major realignment for a billion-dollar offshore energy project.
In comments made at the Thursday City Council meeting, and reiterated in his weekly message to residents, Gillian took his sternest stance on the project so far.
“My position moving forward is as follows: The wind turbines should not be seen,” Gillian said. “This project can be altered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to eliminate visual impact from the beach.”
As proposed, the Ocean Wind project is set to bring 99 wind turbines to the coast of Cape May and Atlantic counties, with the closest about 15 miles from the beach. The Danish energy giant Ørsted won a solicitation from New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities for the first 1,100-megawatt offshore wind farm off the coast, and this summer won a second solicitation for Ocean Wind 2. Together, the projects are projected to power a million New Jersey homes.
But Ocean City officials have been deeply skeptical about the plans, citing the potential impact on tourism. City Council members have publicly opposed the project.
Previously, Gillian cautioned against taking steps that would limit Ocean City’s options on a massive project with the backing of both the Biden White House and Gov. Phil Murphy. He made a similar point in his comments Thursday.
“I understand that federal and state decision makers have the power to approve this project without Ocean City’s consent, but I intend to do everything in my power to advocate for Ocean City’s best interests,” Gillian stated.
As proposed, the Ocean Wind project would run a line under the city at 35th Street to connect with the power grid at the site of the former BL England power plant in the Beesley’s Point section of Upper Township.
Early this year, City Council President Bob Barr discussed delaying the project by denying permission to bring the power lines under the city. State Sens. Stephen Sweeney and Bob Smith introduced a bill this summer aimed at taking that option off the table, allowing the state Board of Public Utilities to approve rights-of-way for offshore wind power if counties or towns deny them.
The move drew howls of protest from Ocean City council members, including from Keith Hartzell, who said it amounted to taking away democracy.
Supporters of the offshore wind project say it is especially important to shore communities, which are set to take the biggest hit from rising seas and a warming climate. Gillian said he supports clean energy, but wants Ocean City to be heard.
“Let me be clear. I do not intend to be an obstructionist, but it’s my job to look out for Ocean City,” he said.
Opposition to the offshore wind turbines has built as the project gets closer to reality. In his comments, Gillian mentioned concerns raised by commercial and recreational fishing groups.
“The project should not move forward until all concerns of the fishing communities are adequately addressed,” he said, also saying potential threats to the environment and to the public should also be addressed.
Gillian mentioned that Ørsted has reached out to his office about the possibility of community impact payments. He wants that, too.
“Ocean Wind should provide Ocean City with an annual impact fee and fund a flood mitigation project in the area where transmission lines would cross under the island,” he said.
Ocean City residents will have a chance to hear about the project at an open house set for 10 a.m. Nov. 6 at the Ocean City Music Pier, Moorlyn Terrace and the Boardwalk.
Ørsted originally planned to locate the turbines closer to the beach, but amended those plans early in the process, with the closest turbine 15 miles offshore. In previous comments, officials with the company said it would not be possible to locate the project entirely over the horizon.
Contacted for comment Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the project did not say whether it was feasible to relocate the turbines farther from the beach, or what the company had offered Ocean City so far.
“We appreciate the points raised by the mayor and we look forward to working with the city and the community in advancing the project, while being a good community partner,” said Liz Thomas, a spokesperson for Ocean Wind.
In announcing Ocean Wind 2, David Hardy, Ørsted’s CEO for North America, said the project put New Jersey firmly at the heart of the American offshore wind industry.
The company plans to begin commercial operations at Ocean Wind 1 by the end of 2024. PSEG also owns a quarter of the project. The Murphy administration is looking to offshore wind as a key part of its plans to shift to renewable energy by mid-century.
Ocean Wind 1 includes 99 wind turbines starting about 15 miles off the coast, each more than 900 feet from the water’s surface to the highest point of the spinning blades. They will be visible from the beaches of Cape May County, with the project area running roughly from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor.