Friday, New Jersey utility officials utilised a contentious statute to bypass local authorities and award the necessary permissions for an offshore wind project to proceed.
The state Board of Public Utilities awarded multiple easements and permissions to Orsted, a Danish wind energy producer, that authorities in Cape May County had refused to issue.
They utilised a modification to New Jersey’s offshore wind statute that was approved in 2021 and signed into law by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, which removed the majority of local jurisdiction over where offshore wind projects are permitted to come ashore. The law allows a developer of offshore wind energy to petition the utilities board for an order bypassing local control over such projects.
The board’s president, Joseph Fiordaliso, stated, “I want to tell the public that we do not take these actions lightly.” “For the board to even consider this type of action, there must be a clear public necessity.” This is something that the majority of us believe will be beneficial to New Jersey residents.”
Fiordaliso stated that the planned transmission line route will not negatively impact Ocean City or Cape May County economically or visually. The power line will stretch from wind turbines 15 miles offshore to Ocean City, where it will run underground along existing streets and link to the electrical system at the former B.L. England power plant site in Upper Township.
The vote was the second occasion that the board acted under the modified law to award Orsted permissions when municipal officials had refused. In September 2022, the board issued an order that superseded Ocean City’s jurisdiction to give several wetland and environmental clearances for the same project.
Commissioner Dianne Solomon voted against the measure on Friday, stating that it was “obviously a sensitive issue” and that she believes the board made a mistake in September by overriding Ocean City’s authority.
She stated, “We should want more information, not less.”
Ocean Wind stated in its appeal to the board that it had repeatedly attempted to secure authorization directly from Cape May County officials.
The applicants wrote, “After all the discussions, meetings, and letters exchanged between Ocean Wind and Cape May County, there has been no indication that the county will voluntarily provide Ocean Wind with any of the necessary approvals or consents for environmental permitting or the required easements.”
The project, which is one of three now approved for the seas off the coast of southern New Jersey, still need multiple state and federal permissions.
Many Jersey Shore villages and people were angry by the law since it stripped them of their leverage over offshore wind projects. But, state legislators justified the bill as vital to secure the completion of such projects and help New Jersey transition away from the use of fossil fuels to generate energy.
Officials of Cape May County have stated that they are examining the verdict.
Maddy Urbish, chief of government affairs and market strategy for Orsted in New Jersey, stated in an email that the Board of Public Utilities’ decision permits the project to move forward.
Utilizing the petition process to seek this judgement “does not limit our continued interactions with Cape May County, and we remain dedicated to offering environmental and economic advantages to its inhabitants,” Urbish said.
Opponents’ most popular arguments include the uncertain impact of hundreds or thousands of wind turbines on the ocean, fears of rising utility bills as expenses are passed on to consumers, and a sense that the entire project is being pushed forward with little knowledge of the potential effects.
Since December, ten whales have come up in New Jersey and New York, prompting offshore wind opponents to demand studies into whether ocean bottom preparation activities for offshore wind projects caused the whales’ deaths. The most recent fatality occurred on Friday near Rockaway Beach, New York.
Two Republican congressmen from New Jersey announced on Friday that they will introduce legislation to halt all ongoing offshore wind projects, prevent their further development, and probe the environmental licencing process for such projects.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, meanwhile, stated last month that there is no evidence linking offshore wind projects to whale deaths.
During a Jan. 18 media briefing, Benjamin Laws, deputy chief for permits and conservation with the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, stated unequivocally: “There is no evidence that any of the equipment used in support of offshore wind development could directly lead to the death of a whale.” There are no documented relationships between offshore wind activity and whale beachings.
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