Offshore wind power is either moving far too quickly or can’t arrive soon enough, depending on which of the commenters was speaking at a lengthy hearing for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Tuesday evening.
Over the course of about four hours in a meeting held remotely, proponents and critics of the Ocean Wind 1 project squared off, with those in favor citing jobs and climate change and opponents describing the project and others like it as the industrialization of the coastline.
This was the third and final public hearing planned to accept comments on a draft environmental impact statement on the Ocean Wind proposal, set to put up to 98 wind turbines about 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic and Cape May counties. The two prior meetings this month lasted about as long.
The massive report, weighing in at more than 1,400 pages, will help guide the federal permitting process for Ocean Wind, the farthest along of several offshore wind projects in the pipeline. A final report is expected by March 2023, with the energy companies Ørsted and PSEG predicting the project will be operational by 2024. Once the blades start turning, the project is expected to power a half-million homes.
As proposed, the turbines would be visible from the beaches, with a maximum height of the blades at 906 feet, putting them above the tallest casinos in Atlantic City – in fact, taller than the tallest building in New Jersey.
The project has the backing of the Biden administration and of Gov. Phil Murphy, while it has drawn opposition from shore communities and skepticism from some environmental groups.
The draft report outlines several alternatives, including taking no action, and looks at the potential impact on commercial fishing, navigation, marine mammals, and other species and tourism, along with several other categories.
Most of the adverse impacts outlined in the report would be “negligible to moderate,” according to Lisa Landers, representing the BOEM at the hearing. There is a potential for major impact on commercial fishing, marine mammals, navigation and scenic resources outlined in the draft report, which also sees potential benefits to air quality, the economy, and recreation and tourism. The report indicates potential benefits to birds and sea turtles, although some critics see the project as more likely to harm migrating birds.
Some say: Slow down
Representatives of Clean Ocean Action sought an extension of the public comment period, which closes Aug. 8.
The group also suggested offshore wind in New Jersey begin with a pilot project, “before we rush ahead with the industrialization of hundreds of thousands of acres of our invaluable ocean waters,” said Zachary Klein, the policy attorney for the group.
Ocean Wind is one of 28 lease areas BOEM is considering for offshore wind, bureau staff said Tuesday. Ocean Wind 2 received permits from the Board of Public Utilities in 2021, with more projects in the pipeline.
The turbines will need to be able to stand up to major hurricanes, Klein said, and have the potential to interfere with radar, suggesting this could complicate future water rescues if boats get in trouble within the lease area.
“From the offset, Clean Ocean Action is not opposed to offshore wind, but the ocean does deserve protection and we are very concerned about the trajectory of offshore wind proposals and have many questions,” said Kari Martin, the advocacy campaign manager with the organization. “The size and scope and scale of these projects being considered simultaneously is alarming.”
Some see urgency
Several other speakers backed the proposal, including labor representatives who said the project will bring good-paying union jobs to New Jersey and improve American industry. Debra Coyle with the New Jersey Work Environmental Council said offshore wind can deliver 83,000 jobs by 2035 and generate $25 billion in economic impact.
But many of the comments in favor of the project also focused on environmental issues, especially climate change and the rising seas and powerful storms expected to accompany it.
“Across the U.S., New Jersey is one of the most vulnerable states to sea level rise. Over 70,000 homes are expected to see at least one major flood a year by 2050,” said Cameron Foster with the New Jersey Organizing Project.
Clean energy will be needed to protect the beach towns and boardwalks in New Jersey, he argued.
David Pringle, speaking on behalf of Clean Water Action, suggested the project replaces the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County and the coal-fired B.L. England plant in Cape May County, where power generated offshore is set to enter the grid to power homes.
He said he visited the Block Island wind farm off Rhode Island and took a boat under the turbines.
“They’re beautiful. They’re awesome, and I am excited about these projects,” he said, citing their potential to replace fossil fuels. “We should be celebrating this. This is desperately needed. We are in a climate emergency.”
Dan Ginolfi, listed as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist with Coastal Strategies LLC, cited the nuclear power plant in Salem County, which uses a fraction of the space the wind turbines would require and has double the generating capacity.
“The county is not opposed to offshore wind but has major concerns with the process by which it is being developed and the lack of meaningful stakeholder engagement in Cape May County,” Ginolfi said. “The vast majority of residents are unaware of this development, hundreds of thousands of fishermen are likely to lose their jobs, thousands of marine mammals will be harassed as well as birds and benthic creatures and habitats.”
The benthic zone refers to the bottom of the ocean.
Locals weigh in
Ocean City has criticized a plan to run cables across the island municipality, and officials there have been skeptical of the project, while Upper Township has supported the plan, which will keep power flowing at the Beesleys Point plant, as proposed.
On Wednesday, Upper Township Committee member Kim Hayes said the township had a single request of BOEM, to move the connection to the power grid about 500 feet to better fit with plans to revitalize the former power plant site with commercial and residential development.
Joan Marie Ebert, an Ocean City homeowner, said few of the second homeowners who own most of the property in that town know about the wind power plan. She said she does not deny climate change is real, nor oppose wind energy.
“What I am opposed to is an aggressive, fast-tracked wind farm planned 15 miles off the coast that will desecrate the ocean view and destroy tourism in South Jersey beach communities,” she said.
Those who missed the hearings still have time to review the proposal and submit written comments. A virtual meeting room and instructions for how to submit comments can be found at boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/ocean-wind-1.
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