Wind advocates say offshore turbines will help N.J. avoid climate ‘catastrophe’

Three of Deepwater Wind's five turbines stand in the water off Block Island

Three of Deepwater Wind's five turbines stand in the water off Block Island, R.I, the nation's first offshore wind farm. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

More than 100 elected New Jersey officials issued a statement Tuesday in support of the state’s budding offshore wind industry as opponents renewed their attacks on plans to build hundreds of wind turbines along the Shore.

The group of 110 officials was brought together by the New Jersey chapter of Elected Officials to Protect America, a bipartisan climate-action organization that backs offshore wind power as a major source of carbon-emissions-free electricity.

The group argues that by producing electricity without burning fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal, New Jersey will be doing its part to cut emissions that are driving climate change while contributing to sea-level rise that is forecast to permanently flood large areas of the Shore by the end of the century.

Projections for sea-level rise at the Shore of at least 2 feet by 2050 and 5 feet or more by the end of the century would be a human and economic “catastrophe” whose financial cost would be far greater than Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the group said in an open letter.

Without offshore wind powering more than 1 million homes, the state will continue to contribute more greenhouse gases than it needs and will miss its target of 100% clean energy by 2050, as set by the Murphy administration, according to the officials — who include members of the Assembly, county and municipal representatives.

‘Undeniable’ climate change

“Climate change is undeniable for anyone who lives in a coastal community,” said Atlantic City Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick. “But I’m hopeful because Gov. Murphy is taking action to mitigate the problem, and in the process thousands of green-energy skilled jobs will be created.”

On July 1, the Board of Public Utilities awarded its second offshore wind solicitation for two new wind farms off Ocean and Cape May Counties that will generate a total of 2,650 megawatts. Coupled with an already permitted wind farm that will generate 1,100 megawatts off Atlantic City, a forest of giant turbines will produce enough electricity to power 1.6 million homes by about 2028.

But wind-farm opponents say the sight of churning turbines on the horizon will hurt the economically vital tourist trade in places like Ocean City because visitors won’t want to look at an “industrialized” horizon. They also argue that the commercial and recreational fishing industries will suffer because wind turbines fixed to the ocean floor will disrupt fish populations and deter fishing at the Shore.

The industry’s supporters argue that a network of steel structures near the ocean floor will in fact be good for fisheries because they will create a reef-like environment where fish can thrive.

Opponents also assert that fossil fuels will continue to be used by vessels that construct, supply, maintain and eventually dismantle the turbines, reducing the climate benefits of emissions-free electricity from offshore.

The critics say offshore wind in America is an unproven idea that will operate under different conditions than the long-established industry in Europe and will be damaging to migrating birds and fish.

And they say that Shore communities would be stripped of their ability to control where and how power cables come ashore from the new wind farms, under a bill the Legislature approved in June that awaits a signature from Gov. Phil Murphy.

Rallying the opposition

“They are being pushed through by Ørsted,” said Suzanne Hornick, a spokeswoman for Protect Our Coast New Jersey, one of two anti-wind-farm groups that together claim about 6,000 members. “Because of pressure being put on the lawmakers up in Trenton by Ørsted, these things were brought to light.”

She said there was “zero” opportunity for public comment on the bills “unless you were an insider.”

And she said a major new source of power generation should not be in the hands of an overseas company, Denmark’s Ørsted, which is developing the Ocean Wind project off Atlantic City in two phases.

But Atlantic City Council member Kaleem Shabazz, one of five local officials who spoke at a webinar to announce the statement of support, said offshore wind will help ease the climate crisis at the same time as boosting local economies with the jobs to construct and maintain the wind farms.

“While offshore wind represents an unparalleled renewable-energy opportunity that will generate thousands of jobs and improve health outcomes, we need to ensure its economic benefits are shared equitably,” he said in a statement. “Frontline communities and especially communities of color must be included in the manufacturing, development and generation of offshore wind power.”

Asked why they were issuing the statement at a time when Murphy is all-in on offshore wind, and the Biden administration is issuing more licenses for the industry off the East Coast, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) said there is still a need to make the argument to some sections of the public.

“There’s not a government policy that isn’t opposed by somebody,” Conaway said during the webinar. “Advocacy means you put forward your ideas, and hopefully they are ones that are grounded in science and other evidence that can be used to persuade, and that people who are open to persuasion are won over to your position.”

Winning the argument on offshore wind would be a “down-payment” on a broader effort to decarbonize other sources of carbon emissions such as transportation and homes, he said.

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