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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Offshore Wind Initiative a ‘Money Grab,’ Local Officials Say

A view of speakers
Herald Screenshot

A view of speakers, from left, Cape May County Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio, attorney Michael Donohue, Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, Assemblyman Erik Simonson and Sen. Michael Testa.

By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – Cape May County hosted a virtual information session, June 24, on the state’s offshore wind initiative, calling it a “money grab” by state officials and foreign corporations that will have “no meaningful impact to reduce global temperatures.” 

With attorney and former Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue serving as both speaker and moderator, the audience heard from Cape May County Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd), and the First District Legislative team – Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblymen Erik Simonson and Antwan McClellan (all R-1st). 

The almost two-hour session pushed hard on the assertion that the county’s opposition to the current wind farm initiative is not a partisan position. The speakers argued that a “groundswell” of support, which includes many Democrats, is building.  

A slide presentation gave examples of concerns about the national offshore wind initiative by Democratic governors Tina Kotek, of Oregon, and Janet Mills, of Maine. 

Donohue returned to this theme throughout the event.  

“These are not partisan issues, but rather serious rational concerns,” he said in various ways. 

Desiderio called the issue of the wind initiative “the most important issue affecting all of us.”  

He spoke of the rise in sea mammal deaths, the potential for “severe disruption of our environment and economy,” the likely crippling of the commercial fishing industry, and the burden on the taxpayer to cover “massive subsidies to foreign corporations.” 

Desiderio referenced numbers from the county’s tourism office, stating that even a 5% drop in tourism could mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the county’s tourism-based economy. 

The potential for harm is great, Desiderio said.  

He added that “nowhere enough has been done” to ameliorate the negative impacts. 

Desiderio’s presentation was the start of another theme that ran through each speaker’s comments and a slide presentation by Donohue – “We are more likely to get to a positive solution if we work together.”  

He asserted the arrogant approach of state officials and Ørsted representatives has left the county with no option but resistance. 

Van Drew said the initiative underway is “more about money and power than it is about climate change.”  

He argued that the wind energy initiative will have minimal impact on climate change and that it is “failing in Europe.” 

“We need to make sure this will work,” Van Drew said, pushing a view of renewable wind energy as unlikely to have any substantial impact on the problems it is meant to address.  

He cited many of the same examples of the negative impact of the wind initiative that came out of the “field hearing” he held in Wildwood in March.  

These include sea mammal deaths, potential navigation and sonar interference, and economic harm to the county’s two major industries, tourism and commercial fishing. 

A focus of Van Drew’s ire was the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. He said a board that is supposed to be impartial and acting in the best interests of the ratepayers has members who freely wear a wind turbine lapel pin, providing, in Van Drew’s estimation, a predetermined view of how decisions are likely to go. 

“How arrogant is that?” Van Drew said more than once. 

The Trenton delegation from the First District joined in condemning the state’s “full speed ahead” approach to the wind energy projects. 

McClellan said, “It is all about the money.”  

He argued that many state officials and wind farm company representatives “don’t want to talk about the real issues.”  

McClellan vowed to “continue to stay in the fight.” 

Simonson, a former Lower Township mayor, spoke on the dangers to the fishing industry. He focused on the limited ability to recycle decommissioned turbines, saying “green energy is not very green.”  

Simonson argued that the wind energy initiative will produce a “minuscule” amount of power compared to other options like increased use of nuclear technology. 

Testa pulled together some of the day’s themes, arguing that the initiative is more about money than climate, promoting the more extensive use of nuclear power as a road away from fossil fuels, and placing emphasis on the assertion that opposition to the current push into offshore wind does not make those in opposition climate deniers. 

Testa reused a phrase he has returned to many times when he said, “We have one chance to get this right or catastrophically wrong.” 

The slide presentation narrated by Donohue was an ordered march through the “multitude of legitimate concerns” county officials have raised about offshore wind.  

It dealt with the impact of wind turbines on the view from shore and the potential harm to tourism, dangers to marine mammals, and navigation issues to name just a few.  

The presentation walked the audience through the county’s view that there are too many “critical unknowns” inextricably linked to the wind initiative that require a reasonable pause and detailed consideration of the issues. 

The county’s commitment to continuing its opposition to the initiative was an explicit promise behind the day’s event. Donohue spoke of law firms that have been retained for purposes as varied as challenging the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) recent consistency determination to following the complex federal permit process for areas of potential litigation. 

The most urgent of the issues covered may have been the call to county residents to oppose a new Assembly Bill 5651, which would increase the subsidies provided to Ørsted which those presenting at the event saw as taking from the pocket of electricity customers.  

The bill would transfer federal tax credits to the offshore wind companies who argue that the projected costs of the projects have been increased by high inflation. 

The session presented no speakers who support the offshore wind initiative. 

Donohue said the presentation and a video record of the event will be available on the county’snew web area dedicated to offshore wind information.  

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

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