In a stunning withdrawal, the European energy company the state hired to construct a wind farm off the Atlantic coast announced Tuesday, Oct. 31, that it would immediately stop development of its Ocean Wind 1 and 2 projects.
While the decision by Ørsted, the Danish energy company that abandoned the project, sparked outrage in Trenton, it was largely celebrated across the county, where the project was highly controversial and local governments took a strong and aggressive stance against it.
In the effort to derail the wind farms, local organizations cited ecological, economic and environmental concerns. Representatives of some of the biggest industries in Cape May County began to speak out against the project, citing the harm they feared it would cause their businesses. Municipal and county governments became involved and resisted the project publicly and in court.
The Ørsted announcement creates a major impediment to wind power development for the state; however, it may not totally derail efforts to develop offshore wind turbines, an initiative Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has firmly pushed for.
There are many questions still to answer regarding the future of these efforts, but the latest news comes as a moment of pride for many in the county, but as a painful defeat for others.
The Herald has compiled the sentiments of some of those affected by Ørsted’s decision to pull out of its New Jersey offshore wind projects.
Steve Tecco, president of the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association, an organization that joined the county and other parties in a recent federal lawsuit opposing Ørsted’s project by objecting to the process followed to obtain approvals for it, said he felt as if his organization played a small role.
“Maybe these days David could take down Goliath still,” Tecco said in an interview.
He hedged his enthusiasm, cautioning that this may not be the end of the road for offshore wind development near Cape May County.
“Our hope is that their decision is a permanent one and not viewed as a temporary setback,” he said.
Using a football analogy, Tecco, who also owns Armada By-the-Sea, a Wildwood Crest Motel, said the game isn’t over yet.
“On defense, we made a stop, and we hope that the stop of this forward movement propels us ultimately to victory,” he said. “But we’re being cautiously optimistic at this point.”
Bob Mullock, president of the Cape May Point Science Center, said in an interview he is proud of the state for being so actively concerned about climate change. He also said he sees an opportunity with Ørsted’s backing out of the wind project to recruit some who opposed it to favor other alternatives to fossil fuels, like solar energy.
“One thing that perhaps we could all agree upon would be to concentrate our efforts right now on solar energy,” Mullock said, adding that at Cape May National Golf Club, which he owns, they have used solar energy for almost 15 years, something that has been “a great success.”
He added, “There is a tremendous opportunity for Cape May County to lead the way on solar energy. Some rough calculations that I have done is that we could actually supply all the electricity needed for residential housing in Cape May County with solar energy.”
Mullock also called on those who joined the fight against offshore wind because of its possible impacts on sea life or birds to join the effort favoring the green alternative.
“What we need to do is make certain that those people that were against windmills, because they favored so strongly marine life, that [they support] other actions that are taken to protect marine life and avian life,” he said.
Ørsted’s decision also allows for an open dialogue toward gaining more support for a climate-friendly solution in the form of an alternative to fossil fuels that does not include windmills but also does not exacerbate the effects of global warming, Mullock said.
In response to the Herald’s Facebook post soliciting reaction, some in the community weighed in. While some poked fun at the governor, who had bet heavily on Ørsted, others were cautiously enthusiastic.
“Doesn’t really mean much. They (Ørsted) are still holders of the leased areas. They will wait for more money then resume or sell their leases to another company,” wrote Grace Elizabeth. “We need to continue to fight for the home rule back that Murphy took away!”
Others, using the online language of memes and emojis, celebrated a victory.
“Best news in two plus years!” wrote Edythe Thompson Edwards.
Others cautioned that the death of the wind farm projects could lead to alternatives that are even less preferable.
“Be careful about wishes coming true. Those wind turrets may someday be replaced by oil rigs,” said Ed Einhaus.
In Ocean City, where municipal government has been outspoken and aggressive in opposing the Ørsted projects, Mayor Jay Gillian called the abandonment of the projects a “relief.”
“We will continue with our challenge to the state law that strips Ocean City and other local municipalities of the power to review offshore wind transmission line proposals within their borders,” he said. “This unconstitutional statute sets a dangerous precedent that extends beyond the Ocean Wind projects.
“As always, Ocean City will be a leader in solving problems. We are exploring options for expanded solar energy installations on city buildings, and we will advocate for any other effective and economical clean energy project.”
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) called the proposed wind farm “bad for our economy, bad for our environment, and would have been an unmitigated disaster for South Jersey’s hard working middle class families which is why we fought like hell over the last few years to make their defeat a reality.”
In a statement, Van Drew welcomed the news of Ørsted scrapping the projects, but said, “We must continue to build on this momentum and see to it that the remaining projects off the coast of New Jersey meet the same fate.”
In Trenton, Gov. Phil Murphy was incensed by the news. In a statement, Murphy called Ørsted’s decision “outrageous,” adding it “calls into question the company’s credibility and competence.”
While expressing his frustration with what he categorized as a setback, Murphy insisted “the future of offshore wind in New Jersey remains strong.”
State Sen. Mike Testa (R-1st) said he was concerned with taxpayers receiving a full audit of every dollar spent by Ørsted on the project so far, calling it “New Jersey’s Solyndra.”
“I was always extremely concerned about what this project meant to our precious marine life, to our commercial fishing industry, to our recreational fishing industry, and what it also meant to our tourism industry,” said Testa.
In a statement, Clean Ocean Action, a nonprofit advocacy group based in New Jersey, said Ørsted’s announcement offered a long-overdue timeout from the advancement of offshore wind projects.
In the press release, the organization called Ørsted’s decision “the latest and most dramatic evidence that the offshore wind industry is in turmoil.
“This announcement by the world’s leading offshore wind developer affirms Clean Ocean Action’s concerns that ocean industrialization is moving at a reckless pace, fueled by federal and state government fast-tracking.”
Another nonprofit advocacy organization, Turn Forward, which works to advance the interests of offshore wind projects in America, released a statement expressing its disappointment with the decision. The organization said that the wind energy movement must continue forward.
“Supply chain hurdles and economic headwinds are hurting the entire energy industry, particularly the burgeoning offshore wind industry, but we’ve gained considerable ground in recent years and we cannot afford to cede that now. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment in which states and the federal government must deploy all the tools in their power,” Turn Forward said in its statement.
Contact the author, Shay Roddy, at email@example.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 142.