By MADDY VITALE
An open house in Ocean City on Saturday to discuss the pros and cons of an offshore wind project, proposed for 15 miles off the South Jersey coast, evoked interest, concerns, questions, opposition and support.
The event was held to update the public on the status of the project, but much of the forum at the Music Pier was a question-and-answer session between the audience and the developers of the wind farm.
Concerns over how the project could affect tourism, the visual impact of the massive wind turbines offshore, and what it would do to marine life, migratory birds and the commercial fishing industry were raised by several speakers.
Some people talked about the project being vital because of climate change and the need for clean, renewable energy. Others spoke of job creation for South Jersey residents. The project, dubbed Ocean Wind 1, is proposed to be an 1,100-megawatt project that would create thousands of construction jobs and power over a half a million homes.
Video courtesy of Ocean City
One member of the public, Craig Stuart, of Ocean City, had three questions for Orsted, the Danish energy company that would develop the wind farm in partnership with New Jersey-based PSEG.
Can you move the wind farm back from the shoreline? What is the appropriate cost of electricity generated by the wind farm to each homeowner in New Jersey? And how does it benefit homeowners? Stuart asked the Orsted representatives who sat on stage at the Music Pier.
“We can’t go farther back than 27 miles,” responded Maddy Urbish, Orsted’s head of Government Affairs & Policy for New Jersey, who handled most of the audience members’ questions Saturday.
“We would like not to see the wind farm from the shore,” Stuart responded to the applause of some attendees.
He noted that he felt the project was not beneficial to the area.
“If we don’t get any benefit, we aren’t going to support it,” Stuart said.
Among the Orsted representatives on the panel were Pilar Patterson and David Hinchey.
Patterson noted in response to concerns by Stuart and some other attendees that the project still needs to go through a regulatory review by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. She also said there will be another opportunity to review the plan.
The cost of electric bills for a typical home in New Jersey would increase $1.46 per month for 20 years. That figure could vary, based on usage, Orsted representatives noted.
Each of the wind turbines are roughly 900 feet tall. They would stretch down the coast from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor about 15 miles offshore, passing by Ocean City in the process.
The project, as Paterson touched upon, is still in a rigorous government permitting process. It is expected to take two years to complete.
One issue brought up by a couple of attendees was the project’s underground cables.
Orsted representatives have spoken with Ocean City about the possibility of running underground electric cables through town to connect the offshore turbines to a substation next to the decommissioned 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.
There were approximately 200 people in attendance and a few hundred more listening to the virtual presentation.
Among the attendees were Ocean City residents, members of the tourism and fishing industries, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, several City Council members and a host of others who filled the Music Pier for the nearly three-hour forum.
Some people stood in the back and looked at numerous renderings of projected views of the turbines, marine studies and a host of other images on display.
Ocean City Council Vice President Tom Rotondi commented during the forum about a newly enacted state law that removes local oversight – known as “home rule” – for the wind energy farm.
The law allows wind farms to obtain easements, rights-of-way or other property rights from any level of government that are needed to build the project.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, or BPU, would make a final decision if local approvals are withheld by towns or counties.
Like Rotondi, other Ocean City Council members recently said the law effectively strips Ocean City and other towns that would be affected by the wind farm of their home rule rights, a time-honored tradition in New Jersey.
“It bothers me,” Rotondi said of the loss of home rule. “I love the ocean. I love the woods. You took away the ability to negotiate in good faith. What was the thought process behind taking our ability away for defending our towns?”
Urbish answered that Orsted remains committed to being present and available to the public on any and all of their concerns.
“We really work hard to make sure we’re as available as possible,” she noted.
Tricia Conte, who represents “Save Our Shoreline NJ,” a group of nearly 4,300 concerned businesses, homeowners, residents, fishing community members and New Jersey shore vacationers, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the project. She has focused on the wind farm’s possible negative impacts on marine life, including the construction of the project.
“My question is — how many vessel trips does it take to build and make one turbine operational from start to finish?” Conte asked.
Orsted said that it would take 10 trips.
Outside the Music Pier, Conte spoke with some people about the project. A few of her organization’s anti-wind farm signs were displayed on the Boardwalk.
Among the political heavyweights who attended the event was former Gov. Jim Florio, who spoke out in favor of the project.
He noted that he has a home at the shore in Sea Isle City, and has visited Denmark, where he has seen the wind farms operating there.
“This is a very good thing to do,” Florio said of the project, especially in light of climate change. “Keep up the good work.”
Andrew Bulakowski, senior council representative of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council on Carpenters, spoke out in favor of the plan.
Bulakowski said the project would be good for the area, is needed and will provide jobs.
“As a member of the carpenters union, we applaud this project,” Bulakowski said, adding that the closure of the B.L. England and Oyster Creek plants hurt the union workers.
Members of the business community, though, voiced concerns about how the project will affect the small business owners.
Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, asked how small business owners could take advantage of the project.
Urbish replied that Orsted works with local contractors for a variety of things — from work to be done on the project to purchasing personal protective equipment supplies.
Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, asked what Orsted would do for the small business owners and how they could benefit from the project. She also spoke of how vital tourism is in South Jersey, along with the fishing industry.
“What is the impact on the commercial fishing industry? They have real concerns about the fishing lanes,” Clark asked.
Clark also asked what the impact would be visually.
“I would like to thank you. The turbines will be 15 miles off the coast. We will want a guarantee for 15 miles off the coast in future projects,” Clark said.
“Cape May County is a $6.9 billion (tourism) industry. What investments will Orsted make?” she asked, if there ends up being a negative impact on tourism due to the look of the turbines.
Urbish said in response to her questions, in part, “We believe in co-existing and when it comes to tourism, we will be good community partners.”
For more information on Ocean Wind, go to OceanWind.com/resources-and-faqs.