An environmental group urged New Jersey to slow down on approving offshore wind projects this week and requested more studies of the impacts before developing the state’s coast.
During a hearing held by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Clean Ocean Action’s campaign manager Kari Martin called for peer reviewed studies of offshore wind development and to slow down in the state’s permitting process.
“The urgency to stop climate change is paramount,” but that addressing climate change through ocean “industrialization” using an “inefficient, expensive and largely untested strategy” was not the right path forward, Martin told DEP officials.
The DEP held Wednesday’s hearing to gather community input on a plan by the Denmark-based energy company Ørsted and Newark-based energy company Public Service Electric & Gas Co., better known as PSE&G, to build a 1,100-megawatt wind farm miles offshore. The project, called Ocean Wind 1, would have up to 98 wind turbines and have infrastructure in Lacey, Waretown and Berkeley townships within Ocean County and Upper Township and Ocean City in Cape May County.
To complete the project, Ørsted and PSE&G must first obtain various permits from the DEP to show the wind farm complies with rules protecting vulnerable coastal ecosystems. The project would make landfall in Ocean County at Island Beach State Park and at Oyster Creek in Lacey.
In September, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order setting a statewide goal of 11,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy generation by 2040, a goal he said is needed to slow the pace of climate change and transition the Garden State away from fossil fuels.
“Extreme weather events and severe flooding across the country leave no room for doubt – the effects of climate change are becoming more impactful and more aggressive, and we must do the same,” Murphy said in September.
But earlier this week, Save LBI, a group that opposes offshore wind farms close to shore, said wind turbines off New Jersey would harm endangered North Atlantic right whales. Ocean surveying, installation of wind turbines and the noise created by the operations would create unacceptable levels of noise for the whales, according to a Save LBI news release issued Monday.
The population of North Atlantic right whales has declined to fewer than 350 members, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The whales are vulnerable to ocean noise pollution, vessel strikes, shifts in prey locations, and habitat degradation, according to NOAA.
In October, NOAA released a draft strategy aimed at reducing harm to North Atlantic right whales from offshore wind development, while advancing the Biden Administration’s goals of expanding ocean wind development. The draft calls for species observers and acoustic monitoring to try and build the projects quietly and avoid noisy work when endangered species are nearby.
“As we face the ongoing challenges of climate change, this strategy provides a strong foundation to help us advance renewable energy while also working to protect and recover North Atlantic right whales, and the ecosystem they depend on,” NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit said in a statement in October. Coit also works as the acting assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA.
Ørsted officials say they are committed to protecting the right whales and are funding an app and software that helps mariners track right whale movements and avoid vessel-animal collisions. The company says it is also working with biologists and environmentalists on efforts to protect the giant mammals.
Michael Dean of Middletown, who participated in Wednesday’s hearing before the DEP, said the risks are not isolated to Ocean Wind 1’s lease area, but to offshore wind project sites all along the coasts of New Jersey and New York.
In addition to Ocean Wind 1, Ørsted is working on gathering approvals for a second ocean lease area called Ocean Wind 2. In addition, Atlantic Shores – a collaboration between Shell New Energies and EDF Renewables – is working on developing a lease area off Long Beach Island.
New York has six additional ocean lease areas under development farther out to sea in an area off New Jersey’s coast called the New York Bight. Those lease areas cover 488,000 acres of ocean, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Dean worries that in the future, New Jersey beachgoers will see miles of wind turbines, both night and day. In addition, whales, dolphins and other wildlife will be killed in collisions with the turbine supports, he said.
“By undertaking an industrialization project this big, it far outweighs any (climate change) benefit anybody’s ever talked about, or even tried to quantify,” he said. “The harms of this undertaking is, in my view, far worse than any benefits we could realize.”
DEP is holding its next hearing virtually on Ocean Wind 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12. Registration is available at https://dep.nj.gov/offshorewind/. An additional hearing will be held in-person from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 15 at Hammonton High School, 566 Old Forks Road, Hammonton.
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