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Officials Present Offshore Wind as Necessary, Transformative at Conference

An aerial snapshot of the five turbines that make up Ørsted's Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island. Ørsted is the Danish company behind the Ocean Wind 1 project. 
Provided by Ørsted/File Photo

An aerial snapshot of the five turbines that make up Ørsted’s Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island. Ørsted is the Danish company behind the Ocean Wind 1 project. 

By Vince Conti

GLASSBORO – Several current and former state officials gathered for an event, May 3, to discuss what they said was the transformative power of the state’s offshore wind initiative.  

They did so as a group of state Republican senators scheduled a competing virtual hearing to present the reasons for their opposition to the initiative. 

The host for the Offshore Wind Technology Conference was the Steve Sweeney Center for Public Policy at Rowan University.  

Among others gathering for the conference were former state Senate President Steve Sweeney, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st), Rowan President Ali Houshmand, Rowan Dean of Engineering Giuseppe Palmese, Ørsted Government Affairs Head Madeline Urbish, and Atlantic Shores Development Manager Dave Copland. 

One focus of the discussion was the role of offshore wind as a necessary component in the state’s battle with the impacts of climate change.  

The other was the opportunity the offshore wind initiative presents as a job creation machine, with the capability to move the state into an economic leadership with respect to the clean energy future. Copland admitted as much when he said that sometimes the way to talk about the initiative is in terms of jobs. Certainly, that was the case at the conference. 

The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy has made offshore wind a centerpiece of the state’s response to climate change. It is presented as a necessary and urgent step in the decarbonization of every aspect of life in the Garden State. LaTourette spoke of the “dire” experience the state has already begun to experience with climate change. 

In many ways, the conference assumed agreement on the need to combat climate change. The presentations often focused instead on the ability of the offshore wind initiative to transform the state’s economy with thousands of well-paying jobs and a national leadership position in alternative energy sources. 

The green economy was as much at issue as the green environment. 

Sweeney led off his remarks with a warning that “global warming is real.” Accepting that fact leads to a strategy to both address the issue through alternative energy initiatives, as well as a strategy to benefit from the economic transformation that accompanies a reorienting of the state’s energy profile. 

As the Republican hearing being simultaneously broadcast hammered away at the increase in sea mammal fatalities and the potential link between that phenomenon and offshore wind activities, speakers at Rowan explained the sea mammal problem as another visible impact of climate change. 

Calling the Republican opposition as being about politics and not marine life, the Rowan conference offered the competing perspective that warming waters are leading to behavioral changes that lead sea mammals into major shipping lanes where they are more vulnerable to strikes. LaTourette called out the “swirl of misinformation” that draws attention away from the greatest threat to marine life, global warming. 

The focus of the discussion never really stayed with global warming, rather it shifted repeatedly to New Jersey’s economy and the “unique” position the state finds itself in, a position that opens the possibilities for national leadership in a green economy. 

Houshmand said Rowan and other state education institutions would be positioned to train the new workforce. Palmese spoke of programs that could run from industry certifications to master’s programs.  

No one spent much time on the issue of the jobs that would be lost as a product of investment shifts or how those individuals would find their way to retraining programs. 

Palmese did warn that the future needs to be considered from the start. He spoke of dealing with the hundreds of mammoth turbines when they reach the end of their useful life, using the example of 140 miles of used turbine material. He also spoke of the need to ensure the new energy source could access and use the power grid in a sustainable way. 

Whatever issues there are need to be addressed soon if the state’s ambitious schedule is to be maintained. Urbish spoke of Ørsted ’s plan to begin onshore work this year. 

LaTourette noted that transforming the state’s energy profile included the need for a policy framework that would allow private companies to invest “with certainty” in the initiative’s future.  

He added that the offshore wind projects needed to address supply chain issues, grid upgrades, and the development of the necessary workforce. 

In the end, the Rowan conference presented a picture of an existential threat from climate change that required rapid investment in alternative energy sources and offered the silver lining of a better and more robust economy.  

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

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