OCEAN CITY, NJ – New Jersey is striving to become the leader in the fast-growing offshore wind energy industry on the East Coast, but not everyone is blown away by these ambitious plans.
While the state’s Democratic political leadership is firmly behind a rapid development of offshore wind energy projects – it has set itself the goal of producing 100% of its energy from clean sources here. 2050 – opposition grows among citizen groups, and even some green energy-loving environmentalists are wary of the pace and scope of plans.
The most frequently voiced objections include the unknown effect that hundreds or even thousands of wind turbines could have on the ocean, fears of higher utility bills as costs are passed on to consumers, and sentiment that the whole business is rushed with little understanding of what the consequences could be.
Recreational and commercial fishermen have long felt excluded from planning for offshore wind, much of which will take place in prime fishing grounds.
Similar concerns have been voiced by opponents of offshore wind in Massachusetts, France and South Korea, among others.
Adding to the discontent is a bill passed by the state legislature and awaiting action from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who, in addition to granting them a public hearing, would remove virtually all control from local communities. on where and how power lines come ashore.
“They’re still learning about it, and we’re the guinea pigs,” said Rick Bertsch, who is active with a group of Ocean City residents opposed to three already approved offshore wind projects off their city.
Danish company Orsted said in a statement that it is “fully committed to the sustainable growth of New Jersey’s offshore wind industry. Our teams have held several open houses and are committed to meeting with community stakeholders. to educate them on the myriad economic, environmental and community benefits of offshore wind. “
The company said it is committed to protecting the marine environment and has already changed the planned layout of its turbines in a project after input from fishing groups.
Most environmentalists and some business groups strongly support offshore wind as a clean, renewable source of energy as the nation and the world try to move away from burning fossil fuels. They say wind farms will produce electricity that would otherwise be generated by burning coal or natural gas, helping to tackle climate change – and that the rapid pace of development is crucial to tackling climate change before it does. ‘it does not become irreversible.
Many opponents, especially in flood-prone Ocean City, say they believe climate change is real and that global warming and rising seas are threats to be faced.
And while many agree that continuing to burn fossil fuels will only make matters worse, some opponents want New Jersey to proceed more slowly and deliberately, learning as it goes.
Three projects capable of generating enough electricity to power 1.6 million homes have already been approved by state regulators – and many more are underway. New Jersey plans to apply for additional projects every two years until 2028.
There will be about 285 turbines built for these three projects, according to the state.
“Why push this through, trampling on people’s rights and desires everywhere, without fully hearing all the stakeholders, given all the financial, ecological, socio-economic consequences?” Asked Suzanne Hornick, leader of the opposition of Ocean City. “It’s gonna. Be an industrial site over there.
She fears that residential customers are paying much higher prices for electricity than they are now.
Orsted said New Jersey’s first project would increase the average residential customer’s bill by $ 1.46 per month. The state says its second project would add $ 1.28 more to residential bills. The Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind project would add $ 2.21 per month to residential bills.
The Block Island wind farm, one of two currently operating in the United States, experienced growing difficulties, including a cable that was not buried deep enough in the seabed, came loose and had to be reburied. Taxpayers pay part of the cost through a surcharge.
Most Ocean City council members oppose offshore wind projects, although officials in many other communities see the technology as an environmental and economic boon. Last week, 110 elected officials from across the state signed a letter supporting what they call “responsible” offshore wind development.
A common criticism is visual pollution, the idea that turbines will be visible from the shore and ruin the pristine views of the ocean. The developers say the turbines, projected about 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) offshore, will be visible on the horizon on a clear day, but less on a foggy or hazy day.
A group of residents called Go Green and Unseen want the turbines moved 35 miles (56 kilometers) offshore so that they are invisible from the shore.
And while many environmental groups support offshore wind, this support is not universal, nor unqualified. Clean Ocean Action, New Jersey’s leading ocean advocacy group, says it supports offshore wind, but wants to see a demonstration project first, to study and learn from the results.
“These early proposals off the New Jersey coast are massive and total over 1.16 million acres – about the size of Grand Canyon National Park, and legislation is pending to block community concerns,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of the group.
“If we don’t do it right, we may learn too late that the ‘great offshore wind boom’ of the 2020s has accelerated the ecological collapse of this ocean kingdom, saving a billion dollars. supports and its ability to help protect climate change, “she said.” To appease the sins of our fossil fuel past, we must be careful not to act recklessly, threatening the goose that lays the golden eggs – our vibrant and generous ocean. “
Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.