OCEAN CITY — Wind power now has strong support in the White House as well as from Gov. Phil Murphy, but on City Council, not so much.
City officials have expressed skepticism of a proposed offshore wind farm that could power a half-million homes in New Jersey. As proposed, the turbines would be visible from the beach, one of the main sticking points in the tourism-dependent resort city.
At a meeting Jan. 14, council President Bobby Barr said the city could consider taking steps to delay the project. Barr said he has been researching the subject extensively.
“I’ve learned more about windmills in the last month and a half than I ever would care to know,” he said at the meeting. “I would say based upon my research that we can, at least, if we chose to, slow them down. We can make things more difficult for them if we chose to. I hope that they’re prepared to answer some really hard questions.”
Barr said he was not suggesting the city go to court — at least not now. Instead, he said the city could deny the project permission to bring power lines across town, which would likely mean delays if it needs state and federal permits to bring the lines through another route.
In December, Ørsted spokeswoman Kris Ohleth addressed council seeking support for a proposed ordinance granting permission to run a power line under the beach and across the town at 35th Street. Council had previously approved a resolution supporting offshore wind, but council members were not satisfied with her answers.
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Vince Maione, Danish energy giant Ørsted’s director of N.J. market affairs, said the company is talking with city officials and has not made an official request for an ordinance.
“Our plan is to provide to the City Council and administration more detailed information about the Ocean Wind offshore wind turbine project. We want to make sure they all have a clear understanding of the project and the benefits to the city, the region and the state,” Maione wrote in an email.
Ørsted won a solicitation from New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities for the first 1,100-megawatt offshore wind farm, set to be the largest in the country, part of Murphy’s plan to transition the state to renewable energy by 2024. The total project is expected to cost more than $1 billion.
The Ocean Wind Project envisions 99 wind turbines starting about 15 miles off the coast, each more than 900 feet from the water’s surface to the highest point of the spinning blades. They will be visible from the beaches of Cape May County, with the project area running roughly from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor. It’s the first, but not the last, offshore wind project on the drawing board.
For months, Ocean City officials and Ørsted representatives have discussed the project, including the request for the city to approve the power line ordinance, with the potential of bringing the wind-generated power into the grid at the site of the former B.L. England generating station in Beesleys Point.
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Upper Township Committee has already approved a similar ordinance. Ocean City will not, unless the energy company provides more information, Barr said.
Council has become one of the highest-profile skeptics of the wind power proposal, and Councilman Mike DeVlieger has been among the most vocal critics of the plan. In a previous meeting, he argued the proposal could risk Ocean City’s lucrative tourism market, the backbone of the local economy for more than a century.
DeVlieger said residents, business owners and officials should do their own research on the proposal. He and Councilman Keith Hartzell said they have heard from local critics but have not heard from constituents in favor of the project.
“What I don’t want to do is look back after the fact, after they’re here, and say, ‘Hey, why didn’t you guys do something?’” he said.
Hartzell said the company has not provided enough information.
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“I think there’s just still an awful lot of questions,” Hartzell said. “I’m very hesitant to ever go into a program where somebody can’t tell me what it costs. I don’t buy anything if I don’t know what it’s going to cost.”
Ørsted representatives have made clear since the project was announced that it would increase costs and that the wind turbines would be visible from the beach. Mayor Jay Gillian said at the meeting the plans go far beyond Ocean City, with proposals for additional projects off New Jersey and wind farms under consideration up and down the East Coast. In the coming decades, there could be wind farms off the coast from Massachusetts to Florida, he said.
Gillian mentioned that Murphy and President Joe Biden both support the projects. And yes, they will increase the cost of electricity, not reduce it. The initial bid on the project indicated it would increase the average electricity bill by $1.46 a month.
“This isn’t about money. This is about carbon footprint. It’s going to cost more money,” he said. “This is billions of dollars. This is big. It’s going to cost every New Jerseyan more money.”
Gillian said Ocean City would continue to push for more answers on the project.
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DeVlieger said he was not interested in carbon footprints.
“The only footprints I was elected to care about are the footprints on the beach and how it affects our community,” he said. “I get it. I’m not trying to be a complete wise guy. What I’m trying to say is if the governor believes so much in carbon footprint, in saving all that, it would have been in North Jersey somewhere that they would have started all this.”