SEA ISLE CITY — If there was any doubt where Cape May County's governing body stood on plans for wind farms producing energy off its coast, a recent resolution should clear that up.
Approved in a unanimous vote, the resolution "directs all available resources of the county toward the goal of stopping Ørsted's Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2 offshore wind development for the protection of our local environment and economy."
The resolution goes on for eight pages, detailing the county's interaction with the offshore wind farm developer furthest along in the process of creating a new wind power industry off the coast.
That could mean new jobs, county officials concede, but they fear the potential damage it could bring to the area's two largest existing industries: tourism and fishing.
"At first, the County of Cape May was interested in trying to work with Ørsted to find a way forward, perhaps with some modifications to the project to reduce visual, environmental and economic impacts," said Len Desiderio, director of the county Board of Commissioners. "We would like to see land-based offshore wind facilities and supply chain infrastructure built here in New Jersey, since that would create good opportunities for trade workers and others. But we cannot sit quietly by as hundreds of windmills are installed off our beaches as state and federal government agencies ignore our legitimate and serious concerns."
The county alleges the company bulldozed over local objections, including turning to the state for approvals that would otherwise come from local officials.
"As time went by, it became clear that Ørsted was not interested in finding any compromise," Desiderio said. "It is clear to us now that the approach among this foreign corporation and their partners in the state and federal governments is to build these things as fast as they can despite the potential for devastating environmental and economic impacts. On behalf of the people of Cape May County, we will not let that happen without a fight."
The Danish energy company is the sole owner of the Ocean Wind 1 offshore energy project, after buying out the quarter share owned by PSEG in a deal finalized early this year. The company divested of oil and gas production in 2017 and now has wind and solar farms in multiple nations. The company says it has about 650 employees in the United States and a business plan focused on renewable energy.
Plans are for Ocean Wind 1 to begin generating power in 2024.
According to Cape May County, if built as proposed, with 98 huge wind turbines starting 15 miles off the coast, the wind farm will be visible from every beach community in the county. As proposed, any one of the turbines would be taller than the tallest manmade structures in the state, taller at 900 feet than Ocean Casino Resort, taller than any of the region's Ferris wheels or lighthouses, and taller than the smokestack at the former B.L. England power plant, which is expected to be demolished soon.
Local opposition to the project has solidified after a winter marred by multiple marine mammal deaths in the region, and many wind power skeptics remain unconvinced by assurances from the wind power companies and the federal government that offshore work in preparation for the projects could not have contributed to the whale deaths.
Local officials hope to win over visitors and second homeowners to oppose wind energy development. Over Memorial Day weekend, county signs directed the visitors pouring into beach towns to the website capewindinfo.com, and called for opposition to the projects.
The county has engaged Virginia-based law firm Cultural Heritage Partners and environmental consulting group Warwick Consulting of Washington, D.C., to help oppose the wind power projects, and for the past two years has had former county Administrator and former Superior Court Judge Michael J. Donohue serving as special counsel and coordinator for offshore wind issues.
"Along with the city of Ocean City, the County of Cape May is fighting in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court," Donohue said.
They argued that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities deprived the county and Ocean City of required due process when it ruled in favor of Ocean Wind 1's request that a plan to run cable across Ocean City and along county roads be found reasonably necessary for the project to move forward.
Donohue said the BPU "acted in an indefensibly biased and unfair fashion in ruling in favor of the Danish wind company and against the duly elected officials of Ocean City and the county."
In its petition to the BPU, Ocean Wind 1 indicated it was Cape May County and Ocean City who refused to cooperate, detailing a lengthy process of trying to secure consent from the county and city. That included offers of compensation, according to the filed motion.
"After all the discussions, meetings, and letters exchanged by Ocean Wind and Cape May County, there has been no indication that the county will voluntarily provide Ocean Wind with any of the necessary approvals or consents for environmental permitting, or the required easements," reads a statement to the BPU filed last year. "While the project will continue to engage in good faith discussions with Cape May County, as of the filing of this petition, Ocean Wind has been unable to reach an agreement to obtain the necessary easements and consents."