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County Officials Celebrate Ørsted’s Decision to Quit Ocean Wind Projects

Shay Roddy
County officials hold a news conference, Nov. 1, following Ørsted’s decision to withdraw from the two Ocean Wind projects in New Jersey.

By Vince Conti

CREST HAVEN – Cape May County officials held a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 1, celebrating the Danish firm Ørsted’s decision to withdraw from the two Ocean Wind projects in New Jersey. Cape May County Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio called it a “very, very happy day in Cape May County.”

Cape May County Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio speaks at a news conference, Nov. 1. Photo Credit: Shay Roddy

The day prior Ørsted announced that its board of directors had decided to withdraw from both the Ocean Wind I and II wind farms that were to be placed 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic and Cape May counties.

Cape May County has been actively resisting the wind farm developments for almost two years, citing concerns about the harm the facilities would do to the tourism, the environment and the fishing industry.

Desiderio said the county has been in a “fight, make no mistake about it.” He sighted Ørsted’s support from the federal government and the New Jersey State House. “They told us we had no chance,” Desiderio said.

Attorney and former Superior Court judge Michael Donohue, the man Desiderio called the “architect of our strategy,” said the news conference was not a “victory lap,” but added that the story of what the county accomplished needs to be told.

Attorney Michael Donohue advised those who might want to build future wind energy projects not to rely on presidents and governors, but to “sit with real people. Sit first with local elected officials.” Photo Credit: Shay Roddy

Donohue acknowledged that many factors led to Ørsted’s decision, including the impact of inflation, high interest rates and supply chain complications. Still, he said, there is no doubt that the determined and relentless opposition from the county played an important role as well.

Donohue said that Ørsted’s heavy-handed way of dealing with local issues and local interest groups left the county with no path but outright opposition. If there is a message for those who might come behind Ørsted seeking to build wind energy projects, he said, it’s “do not rely on presidents and governors but instead sit with real people. Sit first with local elected officials.”

Both Donohue and Desiderio said they remain wary. Donohue characterized Ørsted’s decision as an important battle won, but warned the struggle is not over.

Assemblyman Erik Simonsen addresses attendees at a county news conference, Nov. 1. Photo Credit: Shay Roddy

All three members of the First Legislative District team were on hand at the conference. Erik Simonson and Antwan McClellan (both R-1st) each stressed the support the county’s effort received from local municipalities like Ocean City and from citizen organizations “up and down the Jersey Shore.”

State Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st) said the Legislature needs to ask when Ørsted and state officials knew the two projects were not viable. He spoke of a need to “claw back” taxpayer funds that went into a project that he said Ørsted knew was not going forward.

Both Testa and Donohue stressed that the county is not against clean energy pursued in a way that is affordable and sensitive to economic and environmental issues.

State Sen. Michael Testa speaks of clawing back taxpayer funds that went into the project at a press conference, Nov. 1. Photo Credit: Shay Roddy

Donohue said the struggle over offshore wind is not, and has not been, about climate change. Donohue asserted that the wind farms if fully developed and operational would have little or no impact on climate change, a fact that he said he learned from federal government reports.

“This was about money,” Donohue said. He argued that Ørsted and federal and state officials have used the “threat of climate change” in the pursuit of taxpayer dollars.

In Trenton, Gov. Phil Murphy reacted strongly to Ørsted’s decision, calling it “outrageous” and adding that it “calls into question the company’s credibility and competence.” He said that while “today is a setback, the future of offshore wind in New Jersey remains strong.” He continued by saying he is committed to ensuring that New Jersey “becomes a global leader in offshore wind.”

Assemblyman Antwan McClellan joined other officials celebrating Ørsted’s decision to withdraw from the two Ocean Wind projects at a press conference, Nov. 1. Photo Credit: Shay Roddy

Murphy’s remarks included an acknowledgement that “offshore wind projects awarded prior to 2020” have suffered from a storm of economic headwinds in terms of interest rates, inflation and supply chain cost increases. What offshore wind developers are now asserting is that the electricity prices offered at lease auctions are too low given changes in industry costs.

Orsted CEO Mads Nipper said in an industry call, “I want to be absolutely clear that we are taking away all learnings from this into future project development.”

Ørsted’s decision to withdraw from the ocean wind projects may represent a reset on the cost of implementing offshore wind. If so, the caution that this is not over may be well placed.

For now the focus was on Ørsted’s withdrawal. Donohue said, “We are not saying we singlehandedly took down Ørsted’s Ocean Wind I and II.” He added that if the county had not resisted as strongly as it did and pursued its litigation strategy as aggressively has it has, “They may have made a different decision.”

What comes next is unclear. For now, county officials say they remain vigilant and committed. Desiderio pledged that the county “will continue to watch what goes on.”

Concerns about future actions may exist, but the news conference ended with smiles and handshakes. “It is always a happy day in Cape May County, but today it’s a bit happier,” Desiderio said.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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