On June 24, the federal government released a draft environmental impact statement on the Ocean Wind 1 project off South Jersey. It asked the public to review this 1,400-page document with lengthy appendices and hundreds of scientific and technical references, and provide comments within 45 days. Based on public outcry it extended the comment period for another 15 days.
But comment on what? The major decisions regarding the project, except the formality of its approval, have already been made outside of public view, including its location and power output. This process, whether you’re for or against offshore wind energy, is an insult to the public, and it’s time to take a hard look at it, and the disparate treatment being applied to New Jersey.
Under the state’s energy plan, private, mostly foreign-owned corporate developers will build and operate hundreds of massive wind turbines each the size of the Eiffel Tower within easy sight of the Jersey Shore. This industrial-scale ocean development will have major and lasting economic impacts, including associated job losses, related to fisheries, shore rentals, local property values, tourism and electricity costs. It is also likely to have a major and lasting ecological impact on marine mammals, from underwater turbine operational noise, on migratory birds, and potentially on the mid-Atlantic “cold pool.”
The subject of this environmental impact statement, the Ocean Wind project, is sited 15 miles off the Jersey Shore, but the same foreign corporations sponsoring it site projects off their own shores 40 miles out. Furthermore, the project developer is pursuing vessel surveys for cable routes all the way up the New Jersey coast into New York so there’s no guarantee that the power generated from these turbines close to and causing adverse impacts on New Jersey will even go to New Jersey.
There was no programmatic environmental impact statement done to secure public input before selecting these offshore wind areas for development. To date, no daytime visible renditions of what the turbines would look like from shore locations on Long Beach Island closer to them have been provided. To bypass potential local opposition, the state Legislature passed a law prohibiting local zoning ordinances from interfering with these projects.
Despite numerous requests, state officials thus far have refused to meet with local mayors and citizens groups to hear concerns. New Jersey regulatory bodies – specifically the Bureau of Public Utilities, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Division of the Rate Counsel – are acting as facilitators rather than regulators. Their own press releases demonstrate this.
Wind projects off the Jersey coast are planned as close as 8.5 miles from the shore. Yet the federal government has agreed not to site projects off New York closer than 17.2 miles to protect those local shore communities from the visible impact; for Massachusetts, there is a 15-mile minimum. So, who’s minding the Jersey Shore?
On June 30, 2021, the New Jersey BPU committed state electric user ratepayers to new costs in the form of significant rate subsidies for two major offshore wind projects: Ocean Wind 1 and Atlantic Shores 1. For the Atlantic Shores project alone, the BPU authorized a new cost over the first 20 years of operation of $7.27 billion. If we include the other projects necessary to reach the state’s 2035 goal, the new cost could approach $30 billion. Who’s watching out for New Jersey ratepayers and businesses?
The BPU will not release its required cost-benefit analysis, nor the rate impact study, even after formal Open Public Records Act requests. The BPU and Atlantic Shores will not even disclose the expected amount of electricity to be produced by the project, which is the foundational basis for any cost-benefit analysis. And there is no written opinion by the New Jersey Division of the Rate Counsel itself in the record that supports the 2021 BPU decision.
Formal New Jersey DEP input into that June 2021 BPU decision, obtained through an OPRA request, did not even mention obvious significant environmental concerns such as the visual and economic impacts on the local communities, nor on identified endangered species. So, if not the DEP, who’s minding the Jersey Shore?
In late 2021, the DEP issued a required notice of its fast-track review of a request for a Coastal Zone Management Act consistency certificate for the first two Atlantic Shores projects. It then delayed its decision for at least a year based on inconsistencies we pointed out. The New Jersey regulations that the DEP was obligated to follow in that process were designed to protect the coastal environment. Those regulations made it difficult to do energy development off the Jersey Shore. How the DEP ultimately addresses these regulations will be telling. Is the DEP truly regulating, or merely promoting?
The highly touted economic benefits to New Jersey from Atlantic Shores’ first project, as reported in the BPU decision and elsewhere, total $1.869 billion. But these claimed benefits, which include positive job impacts, will be paid for by New Jersey electricity ratepayers. Comparing these benefits of $1.869 billion with the $7.27 billion in authorized rate subsidies, how does this produce a net benefit to New Jersey?
The big beneficiaries are the foreign-owned developers and foreign-based manufacturers who produce the turbines and major components. Few long-term jobs will come to New Jersey while New Jersey ratepayers, local businesses and homeowners will bear the financial cost.
For further information on these issues go to the SaveLBI.org website.
Save Long Beach Island Inc. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation supported by 2,000 individuals and businesses unopposed to offshore wind energy as part of our energy supply mix, but we merely ask that wind turbines be sited sensibly.
That is not the case for the Atlantic Shores project, which would be the world’s largest (357 turbines), densest (0.6 miles turbine spacing), tallest (up to 1,046 feet high) and closest (8.5 miles) offshore wind project in the world. Our goal is to get these turbines moved farther offshore to minimize their environmental impact. On Jan. 10, we filed a lawsuit to force a review of this seriously flawed site selection process.
Robert Stern of Beach Haven is president of Save Long Beach Island Inc.
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