ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Two major offshore wind energy projects are moving forward in New Jersey as project owners agreed to involve the federal government in their environmental monitoring plans earlier than ever before been done, and Federal regulators have said plans for another project are not expected to kill or seriously harm marine life.
They come as New Jersey continues to grow as a center of opposition to offshore wind projects from residents’ groups and their mostly Republican political allies. The state’s Democratic governor and Democratic-controlled Legislature want to make the state the East Coast leader in offshore wind energy.
Community Offshore Wind, a joint venture between Essen, Germany-based RWE and New York-based National Grid Ventures, announced Thursday a five-year partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to advance the exchange of environmental monitoring data and expertise for offshore wind projects.
The agreement will bring the federal agency into the company’s planning process at a much earlier stage than is currently the case in the offshore wind industry, an agreement that could become the new industry standard, according to company president Doug Perkins.
“Instead of getting to this point alone and getting feedback from agencies, we’re going to work together to make sure it’s efficient in the data that they collect,” he said. “It creates the opportunity, the avenue for us to engage with them, and for them to engage with us, to ensure that our plans, how we’re sampling, where we’re sampling, when we’re sampling, fits into what they do and what will be required of the sector”.
Jon Hare, director of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, praised the proposed collaboration.
“With the help of numerous collaborators and the fishing industry, our agency maintains some of the world’s most comprehensive datasets on large marine ecosystems,” he said. “Our goal is to include offshore wind energy monitoring activities in this partnership. This agreement is our first opportunity to make these partnerships a reality and demonstrate by example that effective scientific monitoring benefits everyone.”
The community leased a 125,000-acre site 60 miles (97 kilometers) off Long Island, New York, and 37 miles (60 kilometers) off Little Egg Harbor in New Jersey. Its project has yet to be finalized but will likely include at least 100 wind turbines. It could be active by 2030 or 2031, Perkins said.
On Wednesday, NOAA released a letter of clearance for Denmark-based Orsted’s Ocean Wind I project in southern New Jersey.
It involved the approval of plans to unintentionally harass or harm marine mammals during construction of the project, which would build 98 turbines about 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the coast of Ocean City and Atlantic City. The agency calls the impact “take,” which refers to harassment or injury to animals.
“Ocean Wind has not requested and (the National Marine Fisheries Service) does not expect or authorize incidental take in the event of serious injury or mortality,” the agency wrote.
Offshore wind opponents blame the deaths of 70 whales along the East Coast since December on offshore wind site preparation work. But three federal science agencies say there is no evidence that such work is responsible for the deaths, about half of which have been attributed to naval attacks.
NOAA is calling on Orsted to take a series of measures to prevent harm to whales, including a moratorium on detonating underwater explosives from November 1 to April 30; visual and acoustic monitoring of the water in the vicinity of such explosions before, during and after them; stopping pile driving “if practicable” if an endangered North American right whale or other marine mammal enters certain prescribed zones; and noise mitigation measures, including using as little hammer force as possible for foundation installations.
David Shanker, spokesman for the Save the Right Whales coalition, called the decision “appalling.” The group recently sent NOAA the results of a study by an independent acoustics firm that said offshore wind study vessels exceeded approved decibel levels and appear to be using unapproved devices.
“There has been a complete collapse in the system designed to protect marine wildlife and protect the North Atlantic right whale from extinction,” Shanker said.
NOAA declined to comment.
Earlier this week, Republicans in the state Senate called for a moratorium on all offshore wind projects. They called for a special session of the Legislature to consider measures to ban additional tax breaks for offshore wind companies beyond the one already given to Orsted. Senate Democrats declined to comment.
On Wednesday, six protesters were arrested after they refused to leave a street in Ocean City, where Orsted had begun ground tests for its first wind farm project.
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