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Federal agencies make way for NJ wind projectsFeds move wind power proposals forward


BILL BARLOWStaff Writer  

 

    Two major wind power projects planned off the New Jersey coast have taken big steps forward with the completion of an environmental impact study for Ocean Wind 1 and the opening of the public comment portion of a draft environmental analysis for Atlantic Shores.

    In announcing each development, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management described each as supporting the Biden-Harris administration's offshore energy goals. President Joe Biden has presented offshore wind as a key part of plans to reduce the impact of climate change and build the nation's renewable power infrastructure.

    Weighing in at 570 pages, not counting more than a dozen appendices, the environmental impact statement for Ocean Wind 1 supports the construction of 98 turbines starting 15 miles off the coast and describes most potential impacts of the project as minor or negligible.

    "BOEM continues to make progress towards a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a new clean energy industry in the United States," BOEM Director Elizabeth Klein said Monday in a statement. "Offshore wind is a critical component of the Biden-Harris administration's strategy to tackle the climate crisis, while creating good-paying jobs and ensuring economic opportunities are accessible to all communities."

    Ocean Wind 1, owned by the Danish energy company ├śrsted, expects to begin offshore construction before the end of the year. As planned, the wind turbines would be visible from local beaches, and power cables would run under Ocean City to enter the state's power grid in Upper Township, at a planned substation where the former B.L. England power plant once operated. Ocean City has fought that proposal.

    Another cable is planned to land in Ocean County, at the site of the former Oyster Creek nuclear plant.

    It is the furthest along of the offshore wind projects in New Jersey, and has been opposed by local governments, residents and representatives of the fishing industry on the Jersey Cape.

    "Ocean Wind 1 continues to advance through the multi-year federal permitting process, and we're pleased to reach this latest milestone, the issuance of BOEM's final Environmental Impact Statement," said Maddy Urbish, Ocean Wind's head of government affairs and market strategy. "Ocean Wind 1 anticipates onshore construction beginning in the fall and offshore construction activities ramping up in 2024."

    BOEM also released a draft of an environmental impact statement for another offshore wind project it says could ultimately power close to a million homes.

    Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said Monday his department will ensure all necessary steps are taken to avoid harming the state's natural, historic and cultural resources, while Gov. Phil Murphy welcomed the draft report's release.

    "BOEM's announcement of the DEIS for Atlantic Shores South represents an inflection point not just for this pivotal project, but for New Jersey's clean energy future," Murphy said. "Responsible offshore wind development remains integral to our pursuit of a 100% clean energy economy by 2035, a pursuit that has only become more necessary and urgent as a result of the worsening climate crisis. In addition to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and powering more than 600,000 homes, Atlantic Shores South will generate thousands of good-paying jobs and nearly $2 billion in economic impact for the Garden State."

    The project is set to be the biggest offshore wind project in the state, according to Joris Veldhoven, CEO of Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind.

    "We are thrilled to see Atlantic Shores South reach this critical milestone in the federal review process," Veldhoven said.

    Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind Project 1 and Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind Project 2 are proposed for a lease area of more than 100,000 acres, with the closest turbines 8.7 miles off the coast. A 45-day public comment period began May 19, and there are four public hearings planned on the draft environmental impact statement, two of which will be virtual, with two more in person, including one in Atlantic City.

    That is planned for 5 p.m. June 22 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The night before, June 21, another public hearing is planned for 5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Manahawkin/Long Beach Island, 151 Route 72 West in Manahawkin.

    A virtual meeting room will be created on the BOEM website, with meetings planned 1 p.m. June 26 and 5 p.m. June 28.

    An organization opposing offshore wind development, Save LBI, on Monday said the 45-day comment period does not give anywhere close to enough time to review the 2,200-page draft statement or more than 1,000 references, much less comment on them. The organization argues the BOEM is stifling public input.

    "All the important project decisions have already been made, and then they come to the public with this and ask for input. It's an insult to every New Jerseyan," said Bob Stern, president of Save LBI.

    According to BOEM officials, public input on the draft environmental impact statement on the Atlantic Shores proposal will help shape the final statement, which in turn will be used to determine whether to approve the project, and if so what mitigation measures to require from the company.

    "As BOEM moves forward with our environmental reviews, we are committed to working with Tribal nations, government agency partners, lessees, environmental organizations, local communities, ocean users and others," said Klein. "By working together, we can build a strong, enduring offshore wind industry that ensures American communities across the nation benefit from good paying jobs and clean, reliable, domestic renewable energy."

    For the Ocean Wind 1 proposal, the public comment period was extended before the final environmental impact statement was released. There were 1,389 comments submitted and three virtual public hearings.

    "BOEM considered these comments and stakeholders' feedback when developing the final EIS, a critical step to ensure the project can move forward while balancing the needs and interests of everyone who may be affected by the development," reads a BOEM statement announcing the final report.

    The report projects most impacts of the Ocean Wind 1 project to be minor or moderate, or even beneficial. That includes the projected impact of the construction on recreation and tourism.

    The report projects a "minor to beneficial" impact to marine mammals, including to whales and seals. Many in New Jersey blame preliminary offshore work on behalf of the wind power projects for a series of whale deaths over the winter, although federal marine life experts say there is no evidence of any connection.

    The report also discusses a request to authorize the incidental taking of some marine mammals in connection to construction of the Ocean Wind 1 projects. Federal authorities have maintained that in this context, "taking" does not indicate killing any marine mammals, but rather taking any action that could disrupt the normal behavior of the animals, which would otherwise be prohibited under federal law.

    Multiple other potential impacts of the project are found to be moderate, minor or beneficial.

    One exception is the potential impact on the commercial and recreational fishing industries, for which the report suggests a minor to major impact, depending on the fishery.

    However, the report projects the same minor to major impact from not building the wind power facility.

    Contact Bill Barlow:609-272-7290bbarlow@pressofac.comTwitter @jerseynews_bill

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