OCEAN CITY – Tensions were high at the latest virtual presentation for a proposed wind energy project, Ocean Wind I, that would install turbines 15 miles off Ocean City’s coast and would see the installation of cables 50 feet under Ocean City’s beaches. Over 190 attendees tuned in virtually to give comments and to hear the latest update on the project.
Orsted, the Danish power company responsible for the project, asked virtual attendees to stick to the night’s subject – a 0.83 slice of protected land they are hoping to lay cable underneath – when voicing their concerns, but high emotions spurred comments that ranged from enthusiastic support to warnings that God himself would not approve of the project.
Nathan Brightbill and Cathay Ingham were two of at least five members of the public who warned that the proposed projects go against God’s design for the oceans.
“God does not want us to put tons of stinking windmills out there for no reason,” Brightbill said. “It is almost immoral what they want to do.”
Ingham, who owns rental properties in Ocean City, said that the turbines might affect her property values, and admonished Orsted for behavior that goes against God’s design for the coast. Many critics who spoke against the project expressed a wider skepticism of climate change, as a whole.
She said, “This will destroy our beautiful shoreline. God made our shore and the beautiful beach, and you have no right to destroy that. This will destroy our tourism and our property values. I and all my renters are against this. I am praying this project is stopped.”
These comments were characteristic of a large portion of attendees who were notably upset that the project continues mostly unimpeded. Many others at the meeting expressed concern that the permitting process was spurred largely through executive order.
One man, Robert, whose last name was not clear, said, “We do not do things in this country through executive fiat. If this project was so magnificent, it should have been put up by referendum. You are going to destroy one of god’s greatest natural resources that he has provided to this good Earth, all in the name of money.”
Marcus Sibley, environmental and climate justice chairman for the New Jersey NAACP, expressed support for the project but agreed that the way it is being presented to the public leaves many in the dark.
He urged communication between Orsted and the public, saying that it’s the responsibility of Orsted and the state to inform local communities on the project’s tangible impacts.
Many who spoke at the meeting expressed environmental and safety concerns. A woman with an Ocean City activist group, along with at least five others, worries that power cables under the roads and 50 feet under the beaches will bring with them an increased cancer risk.
Eileen Murphy, a staff member at the New Jersey Audubon, expressed serious concerns that the wind projects will harm migratory bird patterns.
Despite these complaints, Orsted insisted that the project will have low impacts but high value for the State of New Jersey and Ocean City residents.
David Hinchey, environmental lead with Orsted, said that the cables to be installed under the 35th Street beach would bring “no damage… before, during, or after the construction.”
Hinchey said that none of the cables will be visible, and that the construction will be done during the offseason.
“There will be no above-ground impacts except a manhole,” he said.
Orsted needs permitting to install cable through a small, less than an acre, slice of state-protected land. Orsted would provide compensation for double the land’s worth, so local or state government can acquire yet more land for the Green Acres Program.
Permits are needed for this parcel of land because the project does not fall within the Green Acres usage guidelines; Orsted would not use the land directly for recreation or conservation.
A presentation given before public comment stated that the turbines and associated infrastructure would have a negligible impact on the land’s usability, visibility, or ecology.
The Ocean Wind I project is part of a larger New Jersey initiative to further bolster the state’s usable renewable energy. Executive Order No. 8, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018, set a goal of 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030, and Executive Order No. 94 increased that goal to 7,500 megawatts of power by 2035. Orsted claims that the Ocean Wind I project will provide enough energy for 500,000 homes.
The Ocean Wind project, as a whole, has proved to be controversial, but many members of the public who spoke at the meeting said that much of the criticism is unwarranted or overblown. One commenter early in the night apologized for his peer’s “harsh and conspiratorial” remarks.
The night’s presentation made it clear that usage of Green Acres land would be necessary for the project to proceed. Orsted will continue to solicit feedback from the public and will publish answers to public concerns after the March 21 feedback cutoff date. The public can submit written comments to Info@OceanWind.com until March 21.
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