The state of offshore wind farms: Rocky sailing with legal challenges in New Jersey
It’s just a cable to carry electricity from an offshore wind farm to a former coal-fired power plant in southern New Jersey, but it symbolizes a daunting challenge for the renewable energy industry. .
The cable has been squabbling for nearly three years, with no end in sight in a state whose officials are eager to get offshore wind power working.
Thousands of wind turbines have been proposed for areas along the US coast as the country tries to meet an ambitious goal of deploying enough offshore by 2030 to power 10 million homes.
So far, only one project is running, in Rhode Island, while another is under construction off Virginia, where two of the planned 176 turbines are operating.
But hurdles like New Jersey’s only contentious cable show the challenge the offshore wind energy industry must overcome — quickly — if it is to move closer to its goals.
Josh Kaplowitz, vice president of American Clean Power, a federation of renewable energy companies, said offshore wind is crucial to combating climate change, generating electricity and creating new jobs. But before any of this can happen, the energy must reach the earth.
“The fact is, realizing these benefits requires building onshore infrastructure that allows electricity to come off and feed into the power grid,” he said.
Many people in Ocean City, a popular beach community south of Atlantic City, are strongly opposed to a proposed project by Orsted and PSEG that still needs state approval to bring a power line ashore.
“We don’t want that here in any way,” said resident Suzanne Hornick, a local opposition leader to the plan.
She cites concerns about damage to the environment, the possibility of higher rates being charged to consumers and the general lack of certainty about what is a brand new industry in this country.
The United States has 27 wind farm projects in development, with five more sites up for auction in California next month, according to the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the offshore wind industry.
If even a small portion of them were to face protracted legal or regulatory challenges, this could pose a serious hurdle for the industry.
Sam Salustro, vice president of the network, said the industry must use as few landing cables as possible if it is to achieve its ambitious goals.
“Cable landings have become a focal point of opposition to offshore wind progress,” he said. “Avoiding these conflicts in the first place should be a top industry priority.”
This can be done through long-term planning of transmission projects, and the federal government should encourage cooperation between states and transmission authorities, he added.
Anticipating such opposition, New Jersey changed its law to effectively wrest control of offshore wind projects from local governments, empowering its state board of utilities to approve them when residents balk.
Nine Jersey Shore towns are contesting the proposed cable, which would land under a popular beach and then run underground along a highway to connect to the power grid at the site of a former fossil fuel power plant that has been closed.
Maryland has similar language in its offshore wind law exempting underground power cables landing from the ban on construction work on beaches in a certain area.
In August 2021, a group of citizens filed a lawsuit against wind development off the coast of Massachusetts, fearing it could reduce endangered whale species. Fishing groups are pursuing proposed projects in Massachusetts and New York.
David Stevenson, a former DuPont executive who served on the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, has fought offshore wind projects off the Delaware coast. He said local opposition stopped a power line from failing in a state park.
Stevenson last year formed a multi-state group called the U.S. Coalition for the Protection of the Oceans that wants a permanent no-go zone on all wind projects within 33 miles of shore along the entire east coast of the country. . Many of the proposed wind farms would be located between 10 and 15 miles (16 and 24 kilometers) offshore, making them visible from the beach on a clear day.
“I and many others assume state and federal agencies will ignore us,” Stevenson said. “So we’re making public comments and created the Ocean Environmental Legal Defense Fund, assuming we’ll eventually win by suing for violations of a list of protective federal laws and regulations.”
Offshore wind companies are throwing money at the coastline; some of the payments are required by law, but others are voluntary. Orsted and PSEG say they will pay $205,000 for the impact on just over half an acre of public land in Ocean City that is being preserved for open space and recreational use – 13 times the land’s appraised value .
On Tuesday, oil companies Equinor and bp set up a $5 million community grant fund in New York.
The Offshore Wind Ecosystem Fund will provide grants for vocational education and training, provide historically marginalized communities with access to labor and small business opportunities, and support minority-owned businesses and women in New York to foster innovation that contributes to offshore growth. wind industry.
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