By MADDY VITALE and DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Wind farm developer Orsted recently hit the pause button on its proposed project that would include 98 towering turbines in the waters off the South Jersey coast.
But opponents say they will continue to fight until the project is stopped altogether.
On Sunday afternoon in drizzling rain, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, members of the local grassroots organization Protect Our Coast NJ and other anti-wind farm protesters rallied on 35th Street beach in Ocean City to reinforce their goal: No to wind farms, no to Orsted.
“You know it’s about the fishing industry. You know it’s about our beautiful animals that live in the sea. You know it’s about our environment,” Van Drew said to the crowd of a little more than 100 protesters. “You know it’s about our national security – literally, the Pentagon spoke against it and was squashed by the administration in Washington.”
Van Drew continued, “You know it’s about tripling our utility rates, maybe worse. Even Orsted admits that. There is nothing good about this project. The more you learn, the more you read, the more you dig, the more you look into it, the more you realize how very bad this is for all of us.”
Citing financial uncertainties with the project, Orsted announced Aug. 30 it is delaying the project until 2026 instead of the original date of 2024. Orsted executives told analysts in a corporate conference that the Danish energy 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.
In a preliminary step for the project, Orsted is scheduled to begin drilling test holes Tuesday along the 35th Street corridor in Ocean City for an underground transmission cable that will link the wind turbines with the land-based electric grid at the former B.L. England power plant in Upper Township.
Protesters on the 35th Street beach Sunday said they were encouraged by Orsted’s delay until 2026, but emphasized they have no intention of letting up until the project fails altogether.
Cape May County Commissioner and former Ocean City Councilman Bob Barr said Orsted is “on the run” and the strategy of the wind farm opponents is working.
“What I want everyone to do is close your eyes and take in the view and listen to the sounds, because in reality, that is what we’re fighting for,” Barr said while urging the protesters to savor the ocean scenery. “That’s why we’re here. We are fighting for peace. We are fighting for a way of life. We are fighting for wildlife. We are fighting for our community. We are fighting for our county. We are fighting for America, because believe me, these folks are not stopping here. If we don’t stop them, they are not stopping here.”
During his remarks, Barr disclosed that a private citizen, a luxury resort developer in Cape May County, has raised $500,000 to fight the project.
“His personal attorney has filed three lawsuits. His attorney knows how to stop projects like this,” Barr said.
Ocean City Councilman Jody Levchuk, another prominent wind farm opponent, told protesters that it has become obvious to him that the project does not belong “anywhere near our community.”
“Whether it was 15 miles, 10 miles, 30 miles, this is not something that our community wants,” Levchuk said. “One thing that is also common sense that I learned being an elected official, you have to listen to your community, and when your community makes it obvious that this is what they don’t want here, you have to fight for that. You have to stand up for that.”
Orsted’s wind farm is proposed 15 miles off the coast between Atlantic City and Stone Harbor, passing by Ocean City, Sea Isle City and other beach towns in the process.
Opponents believe the project would cause irreversible harm to the environment and Cape May County’s tourism-dependent economy. They have blamed a series of whale and dolphin deaths in recent months on sonar mapping of the seabed for the wind farm, although Orsted has denied any connection.
“The key issues have been touched on. They are environmental. We don’t want industrial development near our shores. We’ve seen the risk to marine life, the loss of habitats and the destruction of ecosystems,” said Ocean City resident Robin Shaffer, a spokesman for Protect Our Coast NJ.
Roseanne Serowatka, another member of Protect Our Coast NJ, said there is no room for complacency where Orsted is concerned.
“I feel like Orsted is a dog playing dead. They are biding their time, trying to get investors and power again, and we can’t let up on them,” Serowatka said.
Point Pleasant Beach resident Rose Willis, whose husband, Ed, has been a commercial fisherman for 30 years, said there are growing suspicions that Orsted’s surveying work is killing scallops along the East Coast in New Jersey, Rhode Island and Nantucket, Mass.
“They appear to be healthy, but when you open them up, they’re empty and filled with sand,” Willis said of the scallop shells. “All the way up to Nantucket, they’re seeing this.”
Carrie Buchanan and Patricia Brennan, both of Asbury Park, and Susan Ring, of Long Branch, had protest signs they prominently displayed to denounce Orsted for another proposed wind farm project off Ocean County’s coast.
The three friends said they will continue to fight so that their view of the horizon is not obstructed by wind turbines.
“We are making our point today. We want to make our feelings known that we will fight,” Ring said.
Two other wind farm protesters, brothers John and Dan Cullen, carried signs that declared “Yes to Marine Life” and “No Wind Mills.”
The Cullens, who live in Pennsylvania now, spent their childhood summer vacations in Ocean City with their parents. They fear the wind farm would degrade the environment, harm marine life and also create a visual blight when the massive turbines are viewed from shore.
“The wind mills are just ugly. It’s an absolute eyesore,” John Cullen said.
“Why would tourists pay a lot of money to come down to the shore for two weeks or longer if they have to look at the monstrosity of the wind farms?” Dan Cullen added.