A tangle of litigation could delay the start of New Jersey’s first offshore wind energy project, as developer Orsted is suing governments to stop delaying necessary permits, and citizens groups try to halt the project altogether.
The latest in a fast-growing thicket of litigation came July 3 when Danish wind power developer Orsted sued Cape May County, alleging the government is dragging its feet in issuing a road permit needed to do test work along the route a power cable would run.
The company is also suing the city of Ocean City over similar delays to the project, which the federal government has endorsed as a significant piece in the White House’s efforts to “jump-start the offshore wind industry across the country,” in order to tackle the catastrophic effects of climate change.
Last month, three citizens groups opposed to offshore wind — Save Long Beach Island, Defend Brigantine Beach, and Protect Our Coast NJ — filed an appeal of New Jersey’s determination that the Ocean Wind I project is consistent with state coastal management rules.
And one of those groups, Save Long Beach Island, is also suing a federal agency, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, over its creation of offshore wind lease sites off the coast of New Jersey.
Orsted is turning to the courts to try to end government inertia that could threaten its goal to begin construction in the fall.
Its lawsuit against Cape May County claims the delay in issuing a road work permit has already delayed the project. The state Board of Public Utilities in February issued an order saying the proposed cable route is necessary for the project to proceed, and in March authorized an easement on county-owned property for the work to take place.
But the county, which opposes the project and has voted to do everything it can to stop it, has yet to acknowledge the easement. Michael Donohue, a former state Superior Court judge who is representing the county in the litigation, said it is reviewing the lawsuit.
“The giant foreign international offshore wind corporation Orsted has decided to sue the county of Cape May rather than try to sit down and find common ground,” he said. “Demand letters and lawsuits seem to be the only language Orsted knows.”
Maddy Urbish, an Orsted official, declined to comment on the lawsuit other than to say, “Ocean Wind I remains committed to collaboration with local communities, and will continue working to support New Jersey’s clean energy targets and economic development goals by bringing good-paying jobs and local investment to the Garden State.”
Orsted has all the major approvals it needs to build Ocean Wind I, a 98-turbine wind farm about 15 miles off the coasts of Atlantic City and Ocean City. It still requires a number of lesser permits and approvals from local, state and federal authorities.
Earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law giving Orsted a tax break, allowing it to keep federal tax credits it otherwise would have had to return to New Jersey ratepayers.
Almost immediately afterward, the developer of another proposed New Jersey offshore wind farm, Atlantic Shores, said it, too, wants financial assistance for its project. Murphy said he is “open-minded” about that request.
Orsted also has approval from New Jersey regulators to build a second wind farm, Ocean Wind II, although that project is not as far along in the approval process as Ocean Wind I.
The projects also face substantial political opposition, mostly from Republicans, who blame site preparation work for a spate of whale deaths along the U.S. East coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that 56 dead whales have been found since December.
But three federal and one state agency all say there is no evidence linking offshore wind preparation to the whale deaths.