A group of environmental organizations plans to begin a statewide effort to advocate for offshore wind, with their eyes on Ocean City.
“We know that offshore wind is key to New Jersey’s renewable energy goals. Climate change represents a major threat to the way of life of shore communities,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
His organization and others throughout New Jersey are expected to announce Thursday the formation of the New Jersey Wind Works campaign, with plans to advocate for offshore wind projects like Ocean Wind, the furthest along of several efforts to put wind farms off the coast.
Between Ocean Wind 1 and 2, planned by Danish company Ørsted and PSEG, wind power could light a million New Jersey homes in the coming years.
Projections are that the almost 900-foot-tall wind turbines will be visible from the beaches of Cape May County, including Ocean City, with the closest standing about 15 miles from shore.
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Potosnak and other organizers say the new group will work to counter those efforts, and provide a platform for residents who support offshore wind.
Wind power critics have been active on social media and at community meetings, speaking to Ocean City Council, the Cape May County Board of Commissioners and at town hall meetings, often to receptive audiences.
Ocean City resident Suzanne Hornick, the administrator of a Facebook page dedicated to opposing the wind farm plans, has spoken several times at Ocean City Council meetings, while earlier this year, wind power opponents gathered outside a meeting of the Cape May County Commissioners.
The group Protect Our Coast NJ argues the plans amount to an industrialization of the ocean, suggesting the turbines will threaten birds and marine mammals and disrupt the fishing industry.
So far, Ocean City officials have been among the most outspoken against the proposal, with City Council President Bob Barr suggesting seeking ways to delay the plans, while Mayor Jay Gillian recently called for major changes to the placement of the turbines, asking that they be moved out of sight of the shore.
Potosnak said the wind power plan is not perfect, but he and other advocates say it is the most viable option to power New Jersey while reducing carbon emissions linked to warming the planet.
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“Right here at home we can help reduce greenhouse emissions,” he said. “The key here is to make sure we hold the developer accountable.”
That will include advocating for plans that will reduce possible impacts on wildlife and the environment, even while pushing for offshore wind as the best long-term energy option.
So far, he said, Ørsted representatives have discussed the proposals, but few voices are speaking about the benefits of wind power. He questioned the opposition’s commitment to the environment.
“From what we’ve seen, it’s largely driven by the fear that the wind farms will ruin people’s views. They often use other arguments to mask their real concerns,” Potosnak said.
Some opponents to the plan do cite the impact on views, arguing the visible structures could hurt the tourism that forms the backbone of the area’s economy.
In addition to the League of Conservation Voters, New Jersey Wind Works will include labor organizations, faith groups and community organizations, as well as environmental justice groups from around the country.
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In addition to the climate impact, fossil fuels can add to health problems, including asthma and other conditions, argues Maria Santiago Valentin, founder of the environmental advocacy group Atlantic Climate Justice Alliance. She said those health effects hit poor communities and people of color harder, and said those communities will have a more difficult time recovering from future climate-related storms and floods.
“For us, moving to clean energy is very important,” Valentin said. Efforts of the group include talking about climate issues and the environment in Spanish, reaching people who might otherwise be left out of the conversation.
Several other organizations will also join the pro-wind power effort.
“I would say ‘responsible’ offshore wind power,” said Jennifer M. Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, a statewide group of municipal-level organizations. “It should be done in a way that respects the environment.”
New Jersey is already feeling climate change, including in more severe storms and more frequent flooding, she said.
“The weather’s changing rapidly, and we need to do everything that we can to switch to renewable energy sources and get off fossil fuels,” Coffey said. The state also needs to build to be more resilient to storms. “We absolutely have to do both, and we have to do it now.”
Plans are to formally announce the formation of the group Thursday, with a website at newjerseywindworks.com set to go live. According to Coffey, the number of organizations signing on continues to grow.
Organizers plan to begin advocating for wind power in advance of an open house on the project set for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Ocean City Music Pier, Moorlyn Terrace and the Boardwalk. Presented by Ocean Wind, the event will have options for in-person and virtual participation and include a question-and-answer session about wind power plans.
“We are making participation as easy as possible for anyone interested in Ocean Wind 1 to learn as much as they’d like about the project in whatever format is most comfortable for them,” said Maddy Urbish, head of government affairs and policy for Ørsted in New Jersey.
Organizers request in-person participants wear masks and maintain social distance.
Ørsted won a solicitation from New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities for the first 1,100-megawatt offshore wind farm off the coast, and this summer won a second solicitation for Ocean Wind 2. Earlier this year, PSEG acquired a 25% equity interest in the original Ocean Wind project.
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