Now that President Biden’s administration has thrown its support behind a wind farm off the coast of New Jersey – and others like it from Massachusetts to North Carolina – it’s clear that turbines twice the size of the Statue of Liberty are about to rise in the Atlantic at a rate we’ve never seen .
Earlier this spring, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced the official environmental review of Ocean Wind, the project on the Jersey Shore. It was a clear signal that the project was moving forward. The agency also plans to review 13 more on the East Coast by 2025, advancing Biden’s climate change agenda.
In New Jersey, wind power Now that probably means more than a billion dollars in investment, thousands of jobs and clean energy to power more than 500,000 homes.
But that’s not all.
Ocean Wind, according to those closely following the project, is heading for a series of turf wars, boisterous debates and protracted legal battles, even before the first turbine is planted off the coast of southern New Jersey. This is not necessarily unusual for a project of this size, but even supporters and opponents of the proposed wind farm sometimes disagree on how to move forward.
Environmentalists, commercial fishermen, boaters, unions, homeowners, boardwalk companies, NIMBYs and taxpayer advocates are all going in circles Orsted, the Dutch wind company behind what could be one of the largest wind farms in North America. Local, state and federal officials are also starting to feel the heat.
Almost everyone involved, including David Hardy, CEO of Orsted US, fears that the project will turn into chaos.
“There’s a lot and a lot of growing pains ahead of us,” he said, modestly describing the potential dissent. “We don’t do this in an unruly way.”
First and foremost, it’s important to note that Hardy said Orsted plans to space the turbines enough so that pleasure craft and fishing boats can maneuver between them. He said the company also voluntarily agreed to build the turbines 15 miles offshore, even though its federal lease allowed them to be less than 10 miles from the coast. (Orsted has an interesting visual representation of what the turbines look like from the shore. You can see it here.)
“They’re pretty far offshore. They don’t loom above your beaches, ”Hardy said.
Still, Ocean Wind should expect increasing obstacles. Already, critics say the federal and state review is a sham and the New Jersey wind farm is a done deal.
“There are currently many users in ocean space and in coastal communities who do not accept this technology,” said Kris Ohleth, executive director of Special Initiative On Offshore Wind, a nonprofit think tank.
Some groups are making lawyers, preparing for legal fights, she said. It doesn’t help so many opponents to be deeply suspicious of federal and state governments. They fear that officials will try to defraud, cheat, or harm them.
“There isn’t necessarily a process by which conflicts can be resolved,” Ohleth said. “I see years of litigation ahead for every project if there isn’t a more coordinated and collaborative vision for what using the ocean looks like.”
The plane has power lines from the turbines coming ashore at Ocean City and Island Beach State Park. The lines would then connect to the electricity grid via currently decommissioned power plants in southern Jersey.
Orsted has vowed to do most of the beach work in the offseason – little solace for community groups in Ocean City.
The Biden administration has pledged to provide federal loans and speed up permitting for wind farms, which experts say is the best way to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and fight change. climate.
So far, Biden has not appointed an arbitrator – let’s call it a Wind Tsar – to arbitrate the clash of conflicting interests along the Atlantic coast. Officials in his administration were urged during a conference call in March with offshore industry leaders and four cabinet secretaries that the federal government must play the role of intermediary between supporters and enemies of the wind power, especially the commercial fishing industry, the most vocal opponent.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a few months,” Hardy said. “It’s inefficient and creates a lot of risk for us and the fishermen. … The federal government has the opportunity to mobilize and create a national framework.
Scot Mackey, of the Garden State Seafood Association, said in a recent virtual public hearing that the fishing community’s contribution had not been incorporated into final plans for the project. He said the turbines could disrupt marine life so much that recreational and commercial fishermen would stay away.
Kevin Wark, a Jersey Shore commercial fisherman and a member of the Offshore Science Association, said that “everyone fights” and he found himself in a position where “basically I umpire and it’s not pretty.
“We’re just trying to make sure there’s a fishing industry after it’s all said and done. The reality of the situation is that we are trying to steer things in a positive direction. “
The US offshore wind industry has lagged behind its European counterparts and the US onshore industry, a business that has grown rapidly during the pandemic. The White House said meeting its offshore wind targets would trigger more than $ 12 billion in investment per year, create more than 44,000 jobs in the offshore wind industry by 2030 and support 33,000 other roles related to the industry. industry.
For his part, Hardy said that Orsted, who sold a 25% stake in the project to PSE & G, still hopes the New Jersey farm will be up and running by 2025. Already, he has started construction of a turbine manufacturing plant at the Port of Paulsboro Marine Terminal in Gloucester County and committed to building its National Technical Center in downtown Newark.
“Orsted wants to build a thriving community here. We really walk the walk, ”Hardy said. “We are truly committed to doing this the right way.”
George E. Jordan writes a weekly column on business and development in New Jersey. It can be reached at [email protected]