By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City officials aren’t the only ones taking issue with a proposed offshore wind energy farm.
In Ocean City, members of the community and elected officials are raising objections to Danish energy company Orsted’s plans for a wind farm 15 miles off the South Jersey coast from Atlantic City to Cape May.
Also, elected officials and representatives of the fishing industry in Long Beach Island are voicing similar concerns over another wind farm proposed by Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind about 10 miles off Barnegat Light.
Ocean City and Long Beach Island, in Ocean County, share in their concerns over what the wind farms could do. Both Orsted and Atlantic Shores have hosted town hall meetings in-person and virtually amid the pandemic, but questions continue to swirl from the public about the “what ifs.”
The companies promote their projects as providing clean, renewable energy that could power homes, bring jobs to the area and be good for the environment.
But officials from Ocean City and Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island, as well as those in the fishing industry, say more research needs to be done before the first pilings go into the ocean waters to install giant turbines.
Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck does not want to see his community, where he has served as mayor since 1999, negatively affected by a wind farm, he said in an interview Monday.
“There are too many unanswered questions and the answers we do get just don’t make the project conducive to a community where the allure is a beach and the ocean,” Huelsenbeck noted.
The mayor is so concerned about the project that he contacted Greg Cudnik, 34, a charter boat captain out of Long Beach Island who has done research on the subject.
Cudnik, a recreational fisherman and owner of Fisherman’s Headquarters in LBI, sent his concerns about the wind farm to Huelsenbeck in an email and the mayor read them aloud at the Feb. 23 City Council meeting.
At the same meeting, the Council approved a resolution opposing the Atlantic Shores wind farm project.
Huelsenbeck said he hopes he and others in the community get some answers about the project soon. But he is not optimistic.
The two communities share the same concerns, specifically about what towering turbines may do to the sight and sound and navigation in the waters and how ultimately, it could affect tourism, as well as the recreational and commercial fishing industries.
“They are too close to the land. You will be able to see them,” Huelsenbeck said of the turbines. “Especially with the lights. There will be a glow from the lights. At nine or so miles out, you can see the Barnegat Lighthouse. You will be able to see the turbines.”
Like Huelsenbeck, Ocean City Councilman Mike DeVlieger said there needs to be more research done about the possible impact on local businesses and the overall tourism trade in Cape May County.
“I think we have to do our research from every perspective,” DeVlieger said during a Jan. 15 City Council meeting. “We have to do it from the perspective of the eco-friendly folks, we have to look at it from the dollars and cents standpoint and we have to look at how it affects each and every bit of our economy, particularly here in Cape May County.”
Orsted is planning to build 99 wind-powered turbines that would stretch from Atlantic City to Cape May, passing by Ocean City in the process. Orsted has announced that it plans to have the wind farm operational by 2024.
It is currently going through a rigorous government permitting process that is expected to take two years to complete, a company representative told City Council during a public Zoom presentation on the project in December.
Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind is a 50-50 partnership between Shell New Energies US LLC and EDF Renewables North America. The joint venture company was formed in December 2018 to co-develop a 183,353-acre lease area on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The lease area is located within the New Jersey Wind Energy Area.
For Greg Cudnik, who was raised in LBI, there are too many unknowns about the project off LBI.
In all of his research, he said, he can’t find benefits to the project for the fishing industry or for his community. At least not at this stage.
“To me, what Orsted and Atlantic Shore can’t quantify and tell you is how the recreational and commercial fishermen will be affected,” Cudnik said. “They can’t tell us how fish migrations will change. In my eyes, they would be radically changing the habitat of the Central and Southern Jersey coastline.”
He said the project could harm what makes LBI and the shore so wonderful.
“People come to South Jersey to be on the water. They come to get away from the city,” Cudnik said. “To me, that is being lost with this project.”
Orsted, meanwhile, is seeking formal approval to possibly run underground electric cables through Ocean City.
The cables would connect the offshore turbines to a substation next to the B.L. England Generating Station in Marmora. B.L. England is under consideration as one of the sites where Orsted would link the wind farm to the land-based power grid.
Orsted would need Council’s approval for an ordinance allowing the company to run the cables under Ocean City’s streets. A company official said 35th Street is Orsted’s first choice, with 14th Street and Ninth Street also under consideration.
Just as Councilman DeVlieger had concerns about the Ocean City project, so do some of his fellow Council members.
That includes Ocean City Council President Bob Barr, who indicated that Ocean City may hold the power to slow down Orsted’s project if it remains dissatisfied with the plan.
And just as Ship Bottom Mayor Huelsenbeck worried about the sight of the turbines from the shoreline, so do people in the Ocean City community and on Council.
Ocean City Councilman Jody Levchuk said the turbines would be “sticking out like a sore thumb.”