Offshore wind foes in New Jersey gathering force legally and politically

The offshore project is New Jersey's first, and a U.S. subsidiary of Danish wind developer Orsted could begin construction this year if remaining approvals are obtained.

wind farm in Atlantic City

The sun sets behind a land-based wind farm in Atlantic City, N.J. on Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Opponents of offshore wind energy projects in New Jersey are gathering force legally and politically as they seek to snuff out the nascent industry.

Within the last week, three residents groups sued New Jersey over a key approval of its first planned wind farm; the research arm of Congress agreed to investigate the impact of offshore wind on the environment and other areas; and lawmakers in two counties most heavily impacted by wind farms stepped up their efforts to block the projects.

Save Long Beach Island, Defend Brigantine Beach, and Protect Our Coast NJ filed an appeal Friday in state Superior Court of New Jersey’s determination that the Ocean Wind I project is consistent with state coastal management rules.

The project is New Jersey’s first, and a U.S. subsidiary of Danish wind developer Orsted could begin construction this year if remaining approvals are obtained.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The appeal follows a decision by the investigative arm of Congress, the Congressional Accountability Office, to study the impact of offshore wind on the environment and other areas — something opponents have long wanted.

Bruce Afran, an attorney for the groups, said the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection “has acknowledged the wind turbines will destroy marine habitat, compress the seafloor, severely damage marine communities, compromise migration corridors for endangered marine mammals, cause commercial fishing stocks to decline, and injure the beach economy.”

“Yet, the state persists in the bizarre belief that this massive engineering project will not injure our state’s coastal zone, one of the most important marine communities on the East Coast and the core of New Jersey’s $47 billion tourist industry,” he added.

The DEP declined and the state attorney general’s office declined comment.

Jeanne Fox, former head of the DEP, the state Board of Public Utilities and former regional head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called the lawsuit “a delay tactic.”

“Numerous environmental studies have been done regarding offshore wind, for this specific Ocean Wind project and in general,” she said. “The greatest threat to the ocean habitat, sea mammals and fish is the climate crisis. Offshore wind will lessen the need to burn more fossil fuels.”

The project would build 98 wind turbines about 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the coast of Ocean City and Atlantic City. It is the first of three offshore wind projects to receive approval in New Jersey so far, with several more expected in years to come.

Afran cited numerous sections of the DEP’s April decision on Ocean Wind I acknowledging potential negative impacts on the surf clam industry; changes to the ocean floor from wind turbine foundations and equipment; and the regular use of the area as a migratory channel by five species of whales, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

He also cited a finding by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that major impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries could occur, even with mitigation measures proposed by Orsted.

Liz Thomas, a spokeswoman for Ocean Wind I, said the project has been undergoing regulatory scrutiny for 12 years from nine federal agencies, three state agencies, and over 100 consulting parties, including local towns, tribes, and community organizations.

The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in Atlantic County, which includes Atlantic City, prepare to vote Tuesday on a measure supporting calls for a moratorium on offshore wind preparation work until an investigation can be completed into a spate of whale deaths along the East Coast. Three federal scientific agencies and one on the state level say there is no evidence linking the deaths of 50 whales since December to site preparation work for offshore wind projects.

Also, lawmakers in Cape May County, which includes Ocean City, last week hired two additional law firms to help them fight offshore wind projects.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal