By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Elected officials representing Cape May County denounced plans for an offshore wind energy farm that they believe may cause catastrophic environmental impacts and could also harm the shore’s tourism-based economy.
At the same time, they vowed to continue their legal battle to challenge a series of state and federal regulatory approvals needed for construction of the proposed Ocean Wind 1 project 15 miles offshore from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor.
“Little Cape May County is fighting hard,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, whose congressional district includes the Atlantic and Cape May County shore towns that would be most seriously affected by the wind farm.
Van Drew and other Republicans representing Cape May County reiterated their opposition to the project during a nearly two-hour online public forum Saturday morning that was livestreamed on Facebook and watched by hundreds of people.
“I’m never going to quit. You’re never going to quit,” Van Drew said to his fellow wind farm opponents.
A replay of the Facebook forum may be viewed at capewindinfo.com.
Other speakers included Cape May County Board of Commissioners Director Leonard Desiderio, special county counsel Michael Donahue and the First Legislative District team of state Sen. Michael Testa and state Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen.
All of the speakers strongly criticized the project’s developer, the Danish energy company Orsted, as well as the state and federal agencies overseeing the wind farm’s regulatory approvals.
They maintained that the government agencies have made extraordinary efforts to rush the project through the regulatory process while ignoring objections from the public and elected officials.
“We are not crazy climate deniers,” Donohue said. “We have serious concerns for this community, for the environment and for our economy.”
Donohue read a statement on behalf of the Cape May County Commissioners pledging their willingness to work with different levels of government for offshore wind technology if the project could be done in a “responsible and minimally detrimental way.”
However, Cape May County officials complained that their concerns about the industrialization of the ocean have repeatedly been brushed aside by state and federal regulatory agencies involved with the project, such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
“If the plans of the state and federal governments come to fruition, there will be a massive corridor of thousand-foot-high windmills along most of the East Coast – with a large concentration of hundreds of these industrial structures off the beaches of our county,” Desiderio said.
Orsted’s Ocean Wind 1 project is just one of about 30 wind energy farms proposed so far along the East Coast. Ocean Wind 1 would include nearly 100 towering wind turbines stretching from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor while passing by a number of Cape May County shore communities, including Ocean City and Sea Isle City.
Desiderio, who also serves as the mayor of Sea Isle, asserted that the state and federal regulatory agencies “are content” to have Cape May County’s environment and economy “severely disrupted in order to build the windmills at any cost.”
“And those costs are extremely high,” he added.
According to Desiderio, the wind farm projects are being subsidized by massive amounts of taxpayer money. New Jersey has already given about $1 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the wind farm industry and more may be on the way, Donahue said.
Speakers at the forum expressed alarm that Orsted and other foreign corporations involved in the wind farm industry would be able to control millions of acres of ocean off the East Coast through leases with the U.S. government.
“The fix is in. Think about that,” Van Drew said of the alleged favoritism of the state and federal government regulatory agencies toward the wind farm industry.
President Joe Biden and Gov. Phil Murphy’s Democratic administrations have supported wind farms as a form of renewable clean energy that will help combat climate change.
Murphy wants New Jersey to become a leader in green energy. So far, the state has approved three offshore wind farms and is looking to add more. Murphy’s goal is to have offshore wind farms producing 11,000 megawatts of power in New Jersey by 2040.
Speakers at Saturday’s forum presented a far dimmer view of the wind farm industry. They characterized Orsted’s project as little more than a blatant “money grab.”
“Listen, if anyone thinks this is about green energy, the only green it’s about is the money that they’re putting in their wallets, into their campaign accounts and everywhere else. It’s a money grab,” Simonsen said.
McClellan asserted that the project is motivated by “only greed.”
“That’s what’s going on here. It’s sheer greed,” he said.
Opposition to the wind farm among Cape May County officials has intensified following the deaths of dozens of whales and dolphins since November along the East Coast, including some that have washed up on beaches in Sea Isle, Wildwood Crest Strathmere, Atlantic City and Brigantine.
Orsted’s critics have blamed sonar mapping of the seabed, a preliminary step for construction of the wind farm, for disrupting the acoustic abilities of marine mammals, leading to their deaths.
However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the New Jersey Department of Environmental and the Marine Mammal Stranding Center say that wounds found on some of the whale carcasses indicate they were likely killed by collisions with ships. They say there is no evidence to tie the whale deaths to the wind farms.
Testa called for a 60-day moratorium on all wind farm activity to study whether there is any link between the project and the whale and dolphin deaths.
“Since November of 2022, we’ve seen a massive spike in whale deaths, dolphin deaths and porpoises. And all we’ve said is, ‘What’s going on?’” Testa said of his desire to pause the Orsted project for further study.
“We’re calling for a sensible moratorium and an exploration into how to do this properly, if it can be done properly,” he added later.
Testa took issue with some of the people and groups that have criticized the wind farm opponents for trying to delay or stop a project expected to create thousands of union construction jobs.
“They have the gall to say that we’re science deniers, climate change deniers and that we’re against thousands of union jobs. We’re not. We want South Jersey working. But we also don’t want to sacrifice our shoreline,” he said.
Over the long term, Orsted’s project could result in irreversible ecological damage to marine life, including injury or death to thousands of marine species and wildlife, opponents say.
They also fear that the project will harm tourism, property values, fishing and boating industries and create a visual blight when the towering wind turbines are viewed from the land.
Desiderio expressed concern that Orsted’s wind farm could pose a serious threat to Cape May County’s nearly $7.5 billion annual tourism industry. During the forum, officials said there is data showing that 5 percent to 15 percent of the county’s tourists won’t come back for vacations if the wind farm is built 15 miles offshore.
Meanwhile, Orsted continues to go through the permitting and regulatory process for the Ocean Wind 1 project. The company has indicated it hopes to build the wind farm in 2024.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced in May that it has completed its environmental analysis of the Ocean Wind 1 project. It is a key preliminary step needed for construction of the wind farm.
“The BOEM publication of the Final EIS represents the culmination of years of thoughtful and thorough environmental studies, analyses, reviews and stakeholder interaction and engagement,” Katharine Perry, permit manager for Orsted, said in a statement. “It reinforces that Ocean Wind 1 can and will be developed with a clear focus on protecting and preserving New Jersey’s vast natural resources.”