Officials, crowd almost unanimously opposed to offshore wind at Ocean City meeting. Local, A2
WILDWOOD - If there were any fans of offshore wind energy proposals in the Wildwoods Convention Center on Thursday afternoon, they kept quiet during a congressional hearing on the issue, led by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd.
Over about 2½ hours, speakers dove into what they see as problems with the proposal for wind turbines off the coast of New Jersey and other Eastern states, and with the state and federal approval process they say favors the wind developers.
The hearing was billed as "An Examination into Offshore Wind Industrialization." Leading things off was Van Drew, who described the proposal as a transfer of wealth from American taxpayers and utility rate payers to foreign power companies.
"If offshore wind industrialization moves forward, it will be the most profound transformation of the Atlantic coast in the history of the United States of America," Van Drew said.
Also participating were U.S. Reps. Chris Smith, R-4th, and Andy Harris, R-Md.
"Developers want to build thousands of Eiffel Tower-sized turbines that will line our horizons for decades," Van Drew said. "Despite the gravity of this undertaking, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has engaged in a rushed and sloppy project and a sloppy approval process."
New Jersey does not appear deterred.
This month, the Board of Public Utilities voted to open a third offshore wind solicitation, with a goal of 11 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2040, powering millions of homes, with Gov. Phil Murphy casting the plan as an important step toward clean energy.
After opening statements, which were each deeply critical of the wind power plans, the Congress members heard from environmental advocates, an attorney representing Cape May County, a fishing industry member and others.
They did not hear from Ørsted, the Danish energy company that owns Ocean Wind 1, the offshore wind power project expected to be the first in operation off New Jersey.
"Because Ørsted and the Biden administration refuse to share the facts with the American people, we will," Van Drew said.
Van Drew said the company was invited and declined to attend.
Officials with the company said they have met with representatives of the fishing industry for years.
A statement released Thursday did not address why the company skipped the Wildwood meeting but said it is committed to helping New Jersey prepare for a clean energy future.
"Since 2019, our Ocean Wind 1 project has been undergoing a complete and thorough federal review process as outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act and governed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, including a required environmental impact assessment that invited public comment during the summer of 2022. BOEM's 1,408-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Ocean Wind 1 includes 1,200 cited references from sources such as the US Coast Guard, the US Navy, and Cape May County, in addition to peer-reviewed experts, making it the most thoroughly researched and readily available document for public review," reads a statement from Maddy Urbish, head of government affairs for the project.
She said more than 100 parties were included in the permitting process, including local municipalities.
"We have been transparent about our plans, and remain diligent in educating the public, local communities, commercial fishing representatives and stakeholders throughout the project's development," the statement reads. "We will continue to answer questions and provide information about our proposed projects as they move through the federal and state review process."
In contrast, attorney Michael Donohue, representing Cape May County, said there are dozens of serious issues with the project proposal and said the permitting agencies do not want to listen to local concerns.
He argued the project, if completed, would have a devastating impact on the local tourism economy.
With seating for about 400, the room was filled to capacity before the hearing began, with a long line still waiting to enter when the announcement came that no one else was getting in.
The large room had a curtain about halfway across, but officials with the Convention Center said fire officials would not allow anyone else in.
As the hearing began, chants of "Let us in" could be heard inside, but they died down as the hearing progressed.
The speakers could be heard throughout the building and outside on the Convention Center sound system, and it was livestreamed as well.
Van Drew asked those gathered not to call out or react to speakers, whether they agreed with them or not.
"We have a large police presence here, and that person will be removed," he said.
There were multiple uniformed officers stationed outside the Convention Center, and several inside the meeting.
Still, there were plenty of cheers and applause for statements opposing offshore wind development, including for statements from Van Drew.
During the hearing, Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, said South Jersey has fought ocean dumping and offshore oil exploration in the past.
"The ocean off the Jersey Shore is thriving with marine life. We must keep it that way," Zipf said.
Zipf said Clean Ocean Action could support wind power and that climate change is a real threat to marine life and communities. But she said not at the proposed scale to start, and added that land-based wind farms would be cheaper and easier.
Even a smaller-scale test project could be supported, she said, but not the current proposal.
"It's too much too fast," she said, calling the plans reckless.
Bob Stern, of the group Save LBI, said the proposed wind power turbines offshore will be placed in the migratory path of the critically endangered right whale. He believes noise from the windmills will impact marine life behavior.
Donohue said local concerns must be taken more seriously in planning offshore wind.
"Local and county elected officials are pushed aside, home rule is eliminated, local control and influence is gutted," Donohue said.
He said the BPU denied due process to the county and city, including discovery and cross examination of witnesses.
He also claimed the BPU disenfranchised voters in Ocean City and the county, overriding local objections and approving a route for power lines to the mainland across Ocean City. Donohue said Ocean City has filed an appeal, and Cape May County will likely soon do so as well.
Daniel LaVecchia, president of Lamonica Fine Foods, said sustainability of the commercial fishing industry is collateral damage in offshore wind plans, saying recommendations were ignored.
The deaths of multiple whales this winter, many of them washing ashore in New Jersey, have galvanized opposition to the wind power projects. State and federal authorities say there is no evidence that offshore survey work conducted for the projects had anything to do with the whale deaths, but some offshore wind power critics made that connection even after the first whale death took place, and most people at a meeting Wednesday evening in Ocean City appeared firmly convinced of a connection.
Contact Bill Barlow:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter @jerseynews_bill