Already miles of electric cables snake through Ocean City to power its 5,000 families and light up its famous boardwalk.
But plans to run a cable under the beach to bring electricity generated by 98 offshore wind turbines ashore has sparked controversy. Cape May city and county officials, as well as other communities and homeowners, have spoken out against; other homeowners, environmental groups and unions support it.
Emotions are running so high that a virtual public hearing this week about running the cable under public ownership drew 244 viewers and dozens of commenters.
Global wind energy company Ørsted has state approvals to build the large-scale Ocean Wind 1 wind farm and run one of the two power transmission cables from it under the beach at 35th Street across the city and along the bay north of the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge. The line would eventually connect to a substation at the former BL England coal-fired power plant on the Great Egg Harbor River in Upper Township, Cape May County.
The cable would pass under four lots totaling just over half an acre of municipal property for which the company would pay $200,000 for the “diversion” of public land, which is 13 times its appraised value. A public hearing has been requested because the land, including the beach, is considered part of the state’s Green Acres program to protect open space.
The fight in Ocean City highlights a critical problem facing the nascent offshore wind industry: how to land all the energy that would have to be generated by hundreds of turbines in a 20th-century system built for fossil fuels.
Why do people oppose?
Doug Bergen, a city spokesman, said during Monday night’s meeting that the cable “will disrupt Ocean City’s beach and wetlands” and that the project was being sponsored by the state and the Board of Public Utilities (BPU). of New Jersey without city funding.
“The city has objected to usurpation of the city’s rights … to initiate any claim that could result in the diversion of lands into Ocean City’s open and recreational inventory,” Bergen said. “Ocean City objects to Ocean Wind’s proposed deviations of the Ocean City beach and wetlands on this procedural basis.”
City officials say it was too early for the BPU to approve the cable because federal and state officials have not finished examining the wind farm’s potential environmental impact. Cape May County officials say Ørsted did not disclose how he evaluated other possible routes for the cable and suggested the company choose the cheapest method rather than an all-water route. Nine other local cities also oppose the cable.
The proposal has met resistance from some residents who not only oppose the cable, but also the 850-foot-tall turbines that they believe will be visible from the shore. Some just want the project to move further out to sea.
» READ MORE: Some Concern NJ Offshore Wind Project Will Affect Scenery, Fishing and Tourism
Suzanne Hornick, of Protect Our Coast-NJ, said her group doesn’t want the wind farm “in any way, shape or form.”
Hornick called the virtual public meeting a “farce” because Ørsted had already received approval for the cable. New Jersey amended a law to allow the BPU to approve such public land projects. The administration says offshore wind is imperative to address sea level rise along the coast.
Hornick said there hadn’t been enough public notice about Monday night’s meeting and that the project would harm fisheries and wildlife.
» READ MORE: NJ Fishing Groups Fear Offshore Wind Will Negatively Affect Their Industry: ‘This Is Our Farmland’
Several residents, such as Alice Andrews, have spoken out in favor of the project mainly on environmental grounds. Her family has owned a house in Ocean City for a century.
“We know the country needs energy from many new sources to reduce its use of gas and oil, and we need to save our coastline from the dangers of rising sea levels and excessive warming,” Andrews said. “And these override any aesthetic or other objections. There is an urgency to this. … So there is no reason not to proceed. And for the sake of everyone’s children and grandchildren there should be no delays.”
Resident Mary Fleming has also supported the wind farm.
“Yes, it’s an imperfect plan and you’ll probably see them on a clear day,” said Fleming, referring to the turbines. “But the need to replace fossil fuels is urgent and time is running out. The prospect of windmills on the horizon isn’t the biggest problem facing Ocean City. High tide and our drowning wetlands are.
Chris Cole, business agent for Heavy Highway Laborers Local 172, has backed the project, saying it means jobs.
Although some fishing groups have opposed the wind farm, several charter boat operators have spoken out in favor.
And William Healey, a consultant to the nonprofit, nonpartisan New Jersey Alliance for Action, called the project “a critical step in creating a new industry for the state.” He said, “New Jersey has an opportunity to be a leader in providing offshore wind farms up and down the East Coast of the United States.”
Ørsted owns 75% of Ocean Wind 1 and Public Service Enterprise Group, parent company of PSE&G, the state’s largest power company, owns 25%. The turbine array would cover an area 15 to 27 miles from the southeast Atlantic City coast and generate 1,100 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 500,000 homes.
Ocean Wind 1 is the first of several approved offshore wind projects designed to meet Governor Phil Murphy’s goal of producing 11,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2040. Murphy has a long-term goal of achieving 100 percent “green energy” by 2050, which would include a mix of energy sources including nuclear.
The BPU has approved two other wind projects: a 1,510 megawatt wind farm by EDF/Shell called Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, and a 1,148 megawatt wind farm also by Ørsted and known as Ocean Wind 2. Another project is pending approval in 2023.
To connect to the planned BL England substation, Ørsted plans to run a cable 50 feet below the beach around 35th Street. The crews would feed the 8-inch-diameter, 275-kilovolt cable using horizontal drilling. Access to the beach and parking would be restricted during construction, which would take place in the off season. The public will have access to the beach after construction, and the beach itself will be undisturbed, Ørsted said.
The land-running cable would use existing service routes under roadsides. In all, Ørsted will run about a mile of cable through Ocean City with the eventual goal of connecting to the regional grid under PJM Interconnection, a regional organization that coordinates electricity across 13 states and Washington, D.C.
For the bayside route, Ørsted now plans to use horizontal drilling through wetlands owned by the Green Acres conservation program, but may be considering another route.
A second cable from Ocean Wind 1 would connect to the former Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Lacey Township, Ocean County.
Maddy Urbish, government affairs and policy chief for Ørsted, said in an interview that construction is expected to begin by the end of 2023 depending on whether the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the state Department of Environmental Protection approve the plans. necessary permits, including a draft environmental impact statement submitted over the summer. The first energy would be generated in early 2024.
Residents noted that the draft mentions possible impacts on the migration of endangered North Atlantic right whales. Urbish said Ørsted will have designated observers to halt construction for hours to allow whales to pass. Last month, federal officials announced a strategy to protect whales as offshore wind power develops.
On questions about an all-water route, Urbish said regulatory agencies have expressed concerns about complexity and environmental impacts, while most of the land route, it said, could be traveled via existing service routes.
Public comment is accepted through November 28 via email at info@OceanWind.com with “Proposed Diversion” in the subject line. Status comments should be emailed to PublicLandCompliance@dep.nj.gov with “Ocean Wind 1” in the subject line.