Could offshore wind turbines spoil the pristine views of the Atlantic Ocean from Long Beach Island and the region’s tourist economy?
Robert “Bob” Stern, founder of Save LBI, a coalition formed to push proposed wind turbine projects further from shore, says New Jersey’s wind energy projects, as they are currently designed, will harm both.
“People come to this island to get that open vista, to escape, in a way, civilization and all the clutter and noise,” the Beach Haven resident said.
Long Beach Island is like a different world from the hustle of mainland living, a place with cooler summer breezes and natural views of beaches and ocean, Stern said.
But all that is at risk, he said, by placing wind turbines in the view of vacationers and beachgoers.
Why wind turbines?
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wants 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy to be generated for the state’s electric grid by the year 2035. It is part of the governor’s plan to reduce carbon emissions, lower the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, and try and slow climate change across the region.
As a result, New Jersey has committed to purchasing electricity generated by wind turbines that will be built across several ocean lease areas under the administration of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Three lease areas have so far been approved to be developed off New Jersey’s southern Atlantic coast: Ocean Wind I and II and Atlantic Shores.
The northernmost of the three projects, Atlantic Shores, would have a wind turbine area that would be 8.7 miles from shore at its closest approach from Atlantic City. The lease area would have 200 turbines, each stretching 1,049 feet tall, or roughly as tall as the Eiffel Tower. According to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management project details, the wind turbines would be visible from beaches along Long Beach Island.
Stern, of Save LBI, said that 80% of the turbines closest to shore will be visible above the horizon, despite being nearly 10 miles away.
Those giant structures, once complete, will drive the island’s tourists away, he said.
Save LBI organized a survey of local vacationers and found that about half would not return to the island once the wind turbines were visible, Stern said.
“It’s not cheap to rent the place on the island for the summer,” he said. “I think many people, in a way, feel a little cheated if they put down all that money and then they go to the beach, and they have to look at industrial structures.”
Stern’s concerns are shared by Duane Watlington, founder of Vacation Rentals Jersey Shore, a vacation home rental website with about 1,500 listings in Long Beach Island.
“It’s going to make my job a heck of a lot harder to try to help these owners rent their houses out,” Watlington said. “You want to have wind energy, fine, but don’t put it where it’s going to ruin tourism.”
Impact to more than LBI
In 2018, a survey of more than 1,700 beachgoers by the University of Delaware found that 1 in 5 respondents said their beach visit would be worsened by wind turbines located 12.5 miles offshore. The turbines in the survey were smaller, just 574 feet high, then the 1,049-foot high turbines proposed by Atlantic Shores.
With turbines about 12.5 miles offshore, the researchers estimated that beach trips to the area would drop by 8%.
The researchers also found that placing turbines close to shore – 7.5 miles or less – would likely result in an economic loss for a beach community.
The impacts will be felt all along the Jersey Shore, not just in Long Beach Island, said Watlington, of Vacation Rentals Jersey Shore.
“It’s going to impact pretty much all the Shore destinations, if they put these that close,” he said. “This is a threat to this industry, to my business, to anybody that relies on tourism at the shore. This is a threat, and we need to wake up to it.”
Tim Feeney, who owns a home in the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, agrees.
“For generations beachgoers have come to the Shore to enjoy the wide open seascape, which they consider the state’s natural treasure,” he said in an email. “The Shore is our Berkshires, Adirondacks or Yosemite.”
The turbines would amount to a “desecration” of the area’s natural beauty, he said.
Counter: A boon for the region
Not everyone in the tourism industry agrees that wind turbines will harm the local economy.
Larry Sieg, president and CEO of Meet AC, Atlantic City’s promoter of corporate events and conventions, says the offshore wind industry will be a boon for the region.
“We recently hosted the Business Network for Offshore Wind 2022 International Partnering Forum in Atlantic City, which was a huge success not only for the Atlantic City economy, but also for the wind and energy industries that signed major business deals throughout the conference,” Sieg said in an email.
Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said New Jersey is quickly becoming “the heart of America’s offshore wind industry.
“Atlantic City has innumerable possibilities when it comes to economic and jobs development,” he said in an email. “With regard to tourism, which of course is a primary part of our economy, we believe that offshore wind and our tourism business can coexist. In fact, we are optimistic that offshore wind may actually boost tourism by bringing in an entirely new assemblage of visitors to our region.”
But Ric Bertsch, an Ocean City resident and member of the group Protect Our Coast NJ, which opposes the wind projects as they are currently designed, said he worries about the impacts to communities like his own.
“It’s Cape May County. We have… fishing and tourism,” he said. “We have no other industry. We don’t have any other large business here.”
He said the county will suffer the consequences of New Jersey’s new experiment with offshore wind turbines, which will harm the tourist experience and block large swaths of ocean from commercial fishing.
“The only brand (in Ocean City) that we have to offer the world is our old-fashioned values, our quiet, our peaceful place to be,” said Suzanne Hornick, also of Ocean City and leading member of Protect Our Coast NJ. “This (wind turbine project) really screws with our brand.”
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