The Future of East Coast Wind Power Could Ride on This Jersey Beach Town

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OCEAN CITY, N.J. — Known as “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” this beachside city now has a new distinction: It has become the epicenter of opposition to wind energy projects off New Jersey and the East Coast.

Residents of Ocean City and surrounding Cape May County, helped by an outside group opposed to renewable energy, are mobilizing to stop Ocean Wind 1, a proposal to build up to 98 wind turbines the size of skyscrapers off the New Jersey coast, which could power half a million homes.

The future of East Coast wind energy could hang in the balance. If opponents succeed, they hope to create a template for derailing some 31 offshore wind projects in various stages of development and construction off the East Coast, a key part of President Biden’s plan to reduce greenhouse emissions that are driving global climate change.

“We have a lot of leverage,” said Frank Coyne, treasurer of Protect Our Coast NJ, which gathered over 500,000 signatures on a petition opposing proposed wind farms. “The objective is to hold them up and make the cost so overwhelming that they’ll go home.”

At issue in New Jersey are plans by Orsted, a Danish multinational corporation, to build Ocean Wind 1 — the largest offshore wind project to clear a key federal regulatory hurdle — about 15 miles off the state’s Southern coast. The company has plans for a second project, already approved by state regulators.

New Jersey Democrats support both projects and see them as vital for meeting a state goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

“At the end of the day, it’s imperative for our state’s future,” Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said in an interview. “It’s the right step to take.”

While a federal agency approved Ocean Wind 1 in July, the company still needs other permits to start construction. Meanwhile, opponents have hired law firms now pursuing legal action, including a lawsuit filed in late July by Protect Our Coast NJ against Orsted and the state to block a tax break for the wind farm.

Founded after Orsted received its initial state approval in 2019, Protect Our Coast describes itself as a grass-roots group, made up of “residents, homeowners, business owners, fishermen and visitors” united to “Protect Our Coast from industrialization.” But it isn’t completely a homegrown organization. Early on, the group received support from the Delaware-based Caesar Rodney Institute, a think tank that opposes many offshore wind projects and has ties to fossil fuel interests.

As part of their campaigns, both the institute and Protect Our Coast NJ have focused on whale mortality, arguing that offshore wind harms the environment more than helps it.

But in linking East Coast whale deaths to wind project surveys, these groups contradict what leading marine mammal scientists have concluded. “At this point, there is no scientific evidence that noise resulting from offshore wind site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement.

Opponents have also spread images that overstate how visible the proposed turbines would be from the shore and shared false allegations that the federal government authorized Orsted to kill hundreds of marine animals.

When asked about tactics, Barbara McCall, a board member for Protect Our Coast, said the group stands behind the information on its website.

While pro-wind environmental groups and Protect Our Coast NJ find little common ground, they agree on one thing — the ongoing fight will be pivotal for U.S. offshore wind projects, including more planned in New Jersey.

On Friday, developers proposed an additional four wind farms off the state’s coast. In an apparent nod to coastal opponents, two of them would be much further offshore than the pivotal Ocean Wind 1 project.

“New Jersey is an example for the entire country,” said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, the director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter and a supporter of offshore wind energy. “If we are not able to build this, it will make it harder for other wind projects to succeed.”

Source: The Washington Post