By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
Opponents of what would be New Jersey’s first offshore wind energy farm are celebrating the announcement that the project will be delayed until 2026, but vowed to keep up their fight until it fails altogether.
After suffering a series of legal and regulatory setbacks in the past year, the opponents are encouraged that they are finally gaining the upper hand in their efforts to block the Danish energy giant Orsted from building the wind farm 15 miles off the coast from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor.
“I think this is a sign that the tide is turning. While this is a positive step, this is not the time to pop the champagne corks,” said Bob Barr, a former Ocean City councilman who now serves on the Cape May County Board of Commissioners, the elected body overseeing county government.
Ocean City and Cape May County officials have been among the most outspoken critics of Orsted’s plan to build 98 towering wind turbines as part of the controversial Ocean Wind 1 project, which some opponents believe will cause irreparable harm to the shore’s economy and environment.
“It is a terrible project, the worst I’ve ever seen. This project has no redeeming qualities at all,” Barr said.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, another high-profile opponent of the Ocean Wind 1 project, broadly criticized Orsted’s plans on several fronts.
“These projects are profit-driven, damaging to our oceans, negatively impact our national security, and cause utility bills to skyrocket. I will continue to fight for the people of South Jersey, and I am proud to stand arm-in-arm with them in this fight,” said Van Drew, whose congressional district includes the shore communities of Atlantic and Cape May counties.
Van Drew characterized Orsted’s announcement that the wind farm will be delayed as a “victory,” but added that opponents will not let up their pressure campaign until the project ultimately dies.
“Offshore wind projects have been nothing more than money grabs for global elites,” Van Drew said in a statement. “Once the facts presented themselves, the people of South Jersey began to speak out. Today is a culmination of that effort, but we won’t stop here.”
Ocean City and Cape May County have filed lawsuits to block Orsted from building a transmission line through Ocean City to connect the offshore wind turbines to the land-based electric grid at the former B.L. England power plant in Upper Township. The courts have ruled in Orsted’s favor so far, allowing the company to begin work on the transmission line starting Sept. 12.
Ocean City received a letter from Orsted outlining the work for the transmission line, which will include starting drilling on 35th Street.
“My understanding is a letter is being sent out to residents 200 feet from the site,” Mayor Jay Gillian said.
To view the letter, click here: https://ocnjdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Residents-Letter-35th-Street-SI.pdf
Despite work getting underway this month on the transmission line, Gillian said he is pleased about the overall delay with the project.
“I am encouraged by this. Hopefully, it won’t be built,” Gillian said.
Mike DeVlieger, a former Ocean City councilman who has been outspoken against the project, said he would “love to do a victory dance, but now is not that time.”
“Immediately after Labor Day, Orsted and their contractors plan to start drilling and digging up our island to install their trunk transmission line. It is critically important that we not allow that to happen,” DeVlieger said. “If the line is installed, this nightmare will never end. Eventually, we will be looking at dead sea life and a wall of windmills. They will revisit building this industrial park every time the economic and political winds blow their way.”
He said that the opponents to the project “have them stumbling.”
“We need to turn up the heat even more. We need an injunction to stop them from completing this step,” DeVlieger said. “We need to knock them out. Mark my words, this battle will never be over if we allow this installation to take place. Stay strong, well educated, and passionate about spreading the truth as it relates to this scam.”
DeVlieger noted that in July of 2021, he stood on stage with bestselling environmental and energy author Michael Shellenberger and discussed the Orsted project at a packed Ocean City Music Pier.
“Since then, our community has become much more educated on the environmental and economic harms that our community will bear, if this is allowed to go through,” DeVlieger said. “We need to keep all options on the table. ”
Gillian, meanwhile, believes that public officials, along with residents and other stakeholders in coastal communities that would be affected by the project, sent a strong message to Orsted and its representatives may have listened.
“I think our public officials are listening to the citizens and I think Orsted is too,” he said. “This is what happens when citizens speak up, because they were not given information from Orsted to take a responsible position.”
Gillian explained in a statement that Orsted reported this week that “it has already invested $4 billion in its portfolio of U.S. projects and that it is facing much greater costs than anticipated. They are reportedly going to make a final investment decision on whether or not to move forward with New Jersey and other U.S. projects by the end of this year or early next year.”
Gillian further said in the statement that the announcement “fits the pattern that we have experienced all along.”
“In the rush to move toward the admirable goal of clean energy, there has been little credible review of the costs, benefits and impacts of this and other projects. There is too much at stake to not get this right,” he said.
Barr seized on Orsted’s announcement as an indication that the company is falling behind in two critical areas for the wind farm — time and money.
“Two things kill these projects: time and money. Orsted is burning through both things,” Barr said.
Orsted executives told analysts in a corporate conference this week that the company may be forced to write off more than $2.2 billion in losses on the project due to difficulties with supply chain disruptions, higher interest rates and the uncertainty of receiving government tax credits in the United States.
“We are willing to walk away from projects if we do not see value creation that meets our criteria,” Orsted chief executive officer Mads Nipper said on the call.
At the same time, Orsted said it believes that the wind farm will be profitable in the long run, giving it the confidence to build the project.
While Gillian emphasized that he can’t be sure that Orsted officials are listening, he feels the public officials and residents have spoken loud and clear that much of the project “doesn’t make sense for us.”
On Sept. 10, Protect Our Coast NJ (POCNJ), a grassroots organization opposed to the wind farm, will hold a news conference and protest walk at 35th Street to voice concerns over the drilling that is scheduled to start a day or two later.
The organization put out a news release Friday, saying, “POCNJ is pleased by Orsted’s announcement of a delay; however, we remain resolute in preventing the industrialization of the Atlantic Ocean and destruction of the New Jersey coastline.”
The group further said that “POCNJ will continue to oppose the construction of offshore industrial wind facilities that have been linked to significant negative impacts to marine life.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, a strong supporter of offshore wind technology, wants New Jersey to become a leader in green energy.
So far, New Jersey 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.
Ocean Wind 1 would be the first offshore wind farm in the state and is part of Murphy’s broader strategy to make New Jersey a national leader in renewable energy.