Fishing concerns color N.J. offshore wind hearing

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A House Natural Resources subcommittee field hearing in New Jersey yesterday highlighted the conflict between fisheries and offshore wind development.

The Energy and Mineral Resources panel’s focus was the burgeoning industry’s potential benefit to the state and its crucial role in a warming planet.

“Time is not on our side,” said subcommittee Chairman Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) about the need to promote clean energy to address climate change.

Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who represents Atlantic City and surrounding areas, said he is not opposed to offshore wind but argued that there is a need for greater respect toward people affected by it, particularly fishermen.

Fishing is a growing challenge for wind developers that has checked the sector’s growth in the United States recently. Even though coastal states are investing heavily in wind — with state commitments representing about 20 gigawatts of offshore wind power — the first expected offshore wind farm is on hold until fishing impacts are figured out (Climatewire, Sept. 6).

Van Drew, a conservative Democrat who unseated a Republican incumbent in 2018, said fishing operations large and small have expressed confusion or ignorance about a major project from Danish firm Ørsted A/S. The congressman suggested that the firm has not properly engaged with all sides.

“I know this is a good company, and don’t take this the wrong way, but a lot of people would call that arrogance,” he said to a representative of Ørsted, one of the hearing’s witnesses.

Ørsted, a global pioneer of offshore wind, operates the only offshore wind project in U.S. waters — the pilot-scale Block Island wind farm off Rhode Island.

The firm has begun to dominate the list of awarded contracts for proposed wind in the United States, including contracts with New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland.

Ørsted’s Frederick Zalcman, head of government affairs, told lawmakers yesterday that the company is committed to working with fishermen and has delayed or changed recent plans to accommodate fishing interests.

“I realize that’s probably small comfort, and we all have to prove ourselves,” he said.

Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, hinted at the broad concern that federal permitting could slow the industry’s momentum.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in July failed to publish an expected environmental review for Vineyard Wind’s proposed wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The delay followed an internal dispute with NOAA over fishing impacts (Energywire, July 15).

Days later, the Interior Department announced new plans: The agency would hold the project at bay until a comprehensive fishing impact study had been completed for the East Coast.

Vineyard then expressed concerns that the delay could threaten the project, and observers have wondered what the larger ramifications will be for wind.

“We cannot have a slowdown in the permitting process. If we do, it will send a signal to the industry that will set back not just New Jersey, but the entire industry,” Burdock told lawmakers yesterday.

She added that the industry could use a five-year extension of production tax credits that are set to sunset in 2020. She also said states need a revenue-sharing model to cash in on offshore wind’s benefits.

Peter Hughes, director of sustainability for Atlantic Capes Fisheries, noted that the talk of an economic boon from offshore wind appeared to overshadow potential risks.

“What about jobs that can be lost?” he said.

Injecting a hopeful note in the dialogue, Lowenthal said the testimony was encouraging and that he believed parties agreed that climate change poses a grand threat and that wind companies will need to “coexist” with other industries.

Van Drew spoke about the need for some form of working group for fishermen to become part of the wind farm development process early on.

“Don’t blow us off,” Van Drew told wind companies. “These are families that work hard and deserve to be treated decently.”

The room broke out in applause.