By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
Jubilant Cape May County officials Wednesday celebrated the decision by Danish energy giant Orsted to scrap plans for two wind energy farms off the South Jersey coast, but expressed caution about the possibility that the projects could be resurrected later.
Orsted’s announcement late Tuesday that it is halting its Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2 projects was greeted with relief by opponents and comes amid a bruising legal battle initiated by Cape May County, Ocean City and other groups to stop construction from getting started.
“You know, there were many people that said to us, ‘Don’t take on this company. Don’t take on Orsted. They have the White House. They have the Statehouse.’ But unfortunately, they didn’t know about the courthouse,” Cape May County Board of Commissioners Director Leonard Desiderio said.
During a news conference, Desiderio and other Republican Cape May County officials repeatedly said the tiny county was able to overcome the political support of President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration and Gov. Phil Murphy in favor of Orsted and the wind farm industry.
“Guess what? They didn’t know little Cape May County. They didn’t know what they were up against. We were a fortress. We were ready to go – and we battled them each and every way,” Desiderio said while praising an array of groups that joined the fight against the wind farms.
Cape May County Commissioner Bob Barr characterized Orsted’s decision to withdraw from South Jersey as a day “when the good guys won.”
In strong comments, Barr warned Gov. Murphy to “stay away” from Cape May County and the rest of the Jersey Shore.
“Somebody asked me, what’s my message to Governor Murphy? The message is, stay away from the Jersey coast. Stay away from our animals. Don’t come here. Today is a victory, but we’re not going to sleep. We’ll be watching and we’ll be ready,” Barr said.
Michael Donohue, the lead attorney for Cape May County’s legal strategy against the wind farms, maintained that Ocean Wind 1 was quickly pushed through the government regulatory review process strictly for financial reasons.
“Why were they rushing these things along? The answer is simple. It’s the story as old as time. It’s money,” Donohue said. “The only green that was involved here was the green of taxpayers’ money. That’s what this is about. It’s about billions of dollars in subsidies for corporations.”
At the same time, Donohue warned that Cape May County and other Orsted opponents must be aware of the possibility that the wind farms may be revived. Orsted retains ownership of seabed leases that give it exclusive rights to develop the wind farms, Donohue noted. The company could also sell or transfer those leases to another wind farm developer.
“We are not so arrogant to take a victory lap. There are many more battles ahead. No doubt about it. There is still a leasehold out there for Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2. The fight goes on,” Donohue said.
Orsted’s Ocean Wind 1 project called for building 98 towering wind turbines 15 miles off the coast from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor, passing by Ocean City, Sea Isle City and other shore towns in the process. Designs for Ocean Wind 2 were not yet released by Orsted.
Elected officials representing Cape May County and its beach communities asserted that Ocean Wind 1 would have caused devastating economic and environmental damage to the tourism industry, commercial fishing, migratory birds and marine life such as whales and dolphins.
“These Green New Deal-style wind farms were bad for our economy, our environment, and would have been a complete disaster for hardworking middle-class families in South Jersey,” Congressman Jeff Van Drew, another Orsted opponent, said in a statement.
Van Drew, a Republican whose congressional district represents the shore towns of Atlantic and Cape May counties, said that from the very beginning “these projects were all about lining the pockets of foreign-owned offshore wind companies.”
“Orsted repeatedly asked for additional taxpayer funds and tax breaks, while expecting ratepayers to absorb a massive increase in utility costs,” Van Drew said.
While speaking at the news conference, Cape May County’s First Legislative District team of Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen also had some harsh words for Orsted. Testa said the wind farm would have amounted to the “industrialization” of the ocean.
“This project was going to be devastating to the economy of Cape May County – at least 15 percent of tourism,” Testa said of the estimated decline in the county’s nearly $7 billion annual tourism industry.
“What it was going to do to our commercial and recreational fishing industry, it was going to be devastating. And yet, people fought hard. They pulled together and said, ‘No, not here,’” Testa continued.
McClellan and Simonsen said the wind farm was an example of Orsted trying to force a project on Cape May County’s residents, vacationers and businesses that they did not want.
“It was mainly about protecting our way of life and not allowing anybody who is not from here to come here and tell us how we should be living and what we need to do to protect what is going on here and create a false narrative that we need clean energy by wind turbines,” McClellan said.
Simonsen declared victory against the wind farm for now, but also stressed that “we have to keep our eyes open” because other developers might be willing to pick up where Orsted left off.
“We fought the fight. We kept the faith. We’ve won the battle, but we haven’t won the war yet,” Simonsen said.
In contrast to the elated reaction by Orsted’s opponents, Gov. Murphy blasted the company in an angry statement.
“(The) decision by Orsted to abandon its commitments to New Jersey is outrageous and calls into question the company’s credibility and competence,” Murphy said. “As recently as several weeks ago, the company made public statements regarding the viability and progress of the Ocean Wind 1 project.”
The Democratic governor, a high-profile political supporter of wind energy, had hoped that Orsted’s projects would position New Jersey as a national leader in green energy to help counter the global impacts of climate change.
Murphy and the Democratic-controlled Legislature threw the state’s financial support behind Orsted by approving a new law that allowed the company to keep $1 billion in tax credits to prop up the Ocean Wind 1 project.
Those subsidies were originally intended to go to the state’s utility ratepayers, but were passed along to Orsted instead to help the company deal with rising costs for the project.
Now, Murphy says the state will seek to recover at least $300 million from Orsted, money consisting of a $100 million guarantee the company had pledged to complete Ocean Wind 1 and another $200 million it was supposed to give the state to help support other wind energy projects in New Jersey.
Orsted, meanwhile, released its own statement that blamed inflation, rising interest rates and supply-chain disruptions for its decision to scrap the project.
“As a result, we have no choice but to cease development of Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2. We are extremely disappointed to have to take this decision, particularly because New Jersey is poised to be a U.S. and global hub for offshore wind energy,” said David Hardy, executive vice president and CEO Americas at Orsted.
To view the Cape May County news conference in its entirety, click on the link: https://fb.watch/o2AxRnR5Hw/