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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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County Submits Ocean Wind 1 Concerns to Feds

Wind farm option

By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – As Cape May County has worked to have its case heard by federal and state officials over the Ocean Wind I alternative energy project, it must constantly come up against preconceptions that it is obstructing the project. Many perceive the county’s resistance to simply come because rich people do not want wind turbines on their horizon.
Instead, the county’s submission to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in late August shows a comprehensive set of concerns. 
These include economic factors for a tourism dependent area, the potential for environmental damage, likely harm to marine mammal and migratory bird populations, negative impacts on commercial fishing, navigation concerns and the eventual impact of the project on the rates county residents will pay for electric power.
The county has frequently requested serious conversation and negotiation without the constraints of immovable deadlines for wind farm construction. While BOEM, the federal agency taking the lead on all offshore wind projects located in federal waters, was still evaluating results from its public input campaign on Ocean Wind I based on a draft environmental impact statement, New Jersey confidently upped its wind targets. 
A new Executive Order from Murphy recently raised the state’s megawatt goals for offshore wind by nearly 50%, all before the first turbine has been constructed. 
The speed with which the effort is moving belies any comprehensive effort to converse and resolve concerns raised by the public or by the public’s elected officials. A review of the county’s submission regarding the draft environmental impact statement shows the breadth of those concerns. 
The document, prepared for the county by Warwick Group Consultants, begins by setting the proper context for the county. 
It shows Cape May County as home to a large and diverse tourism economy along with a commercial fishing industry that is among the largest on the Eastern seaboard. Unique and irreplaceable ecosystems are part of the county’s environmental stewardship efforts, along with the county’s location as a critical weigh station for aviary and aquatic migrations. 
The county asserts that BOEM should have conducted a more thorough study of alternatives. They suggest that its environmental analysis groups the coastal areas of four states into one site assessment, an area too large to provide the public with the depth of information necessary. 
The county reminds BOEM that the agency is independent of and not bound by Ocean Wind LLC’s contract with the State of New Jersey or the state Board of Public Utilities.
The county’s submission then lists some of the negative environmental impacts of the project and the harm it may cause to marine species. In addition, the county reports that the 98 turbines and three offshore substations will contain significant amounts of toxic and hazardous material subject to accidents and the impacts of increasingly strong storms. 
With Orsted and BOEM redacting the emergency response plan, the public has no way to evaluate the potential for serious breaches.
The report goes on to list the concerns of the commercial fishing industry. It points to questions left unanswered following the guidance session BOEM held on fisheries mitigation in July. Vessel traffic, navigation concerns, loss of gear and loss of fishing revenues were concerns included in the county submission. With respect to what is known as the cold pool, the report quotes a 2021 Rutgers study that warned about the potential for alterations of the “delicate oceanographic conditions” caused by the “scale of the wind farms.” 
Next, the submission turned to jobs and the tourist-based economy. The county presented concerns that the Ocean Wind project would diminish property values and rental prices, doing significant damage to an economy that depends on both.
Lastly, the county report argued that ratepayers in the county will have to pay higher rates than has been the case with other sources of power. The county criticizes Orsted for failing to provide estimates of what ratepayers will have to deal with. Without such information, the report argues any comparison to other alternative sources of renewable energy cannot be complete. 
 In closing, the county noted that “While the County supports alternative energy sources, the County believes that offshore wind energy is being advanced in a hasty and irresponsible fashion in the Mid-Atlantic by BOEM and the corporate developers to the detriment of the people it is supposed to serve.”
Thoughts? Questions? Email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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