N.J. Shore city opposes plan to bury offshore wind power cables under beach, streets

Source: By Bill Duhart, NJ.com • Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2022

35th Street Beach, Ocean City, N.J.

The 35th Street Beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.

The plan to bury power cables from an offshore wind project under a prime stretch of beach in a popular New Jersey Shore town is set to move forward despite objections from the local government and residents.

Ørsted, the Danish firm developing the offshore wind project, is seeking an easement from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to put cables under land owned by Ocean City that includes a beachfront with luxury homes, some valued in the millions of dollars.

Ocean City officials said they oppose a 2021 New Jersey law that gives wind energy projects approved by the state public utilities board the authority to locate, build, use and maintain wires and associated land-based infrastructure as long as they run underground on public property including streets.

“Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian and City Council object to Ocean Wind’s application to the N.J. BPU and reserve the right to challenge any approval granted,” according to a statement provided to NJ Advance Media. “It’s still early in the review of Ocean Wind’s operations plan and its environmental impact, and regardless of whether a town ultimately supports or opposes the project, this is not a good precedent.”

The state BPU has not yet granted the request for easements. Ørsted must also still submit environment impact statements to federal and state regulators for approval of the entire project.

Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to bring 7,500 offshore wind megawatts online by 2035. It is a critical part of his energy master plan, which calls for the state to get 50% of its power from renewables by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The effort is meant to wean the state off fossil fuels, and slash New Jersey’s contributions to climate change.

Ocean Wind 1 is the first of three wind farms approved by the state, which will lead the nation in offshore wind development when it is operational in 2024.

The project — a landmark for the Danish wind giant Ørsted — includes the construction of up to 98, 900-foot-tall wind turbines 15 miles off the coast. The power cables will come ashore under the beach and streets of Ocean City to the shuttered B.L. England Generating Station nearly 7 miles away in Upper Township. The facility was formerly a coal-powered plant.

“This (easement) petition filing seeks to maintain the project’s timeline to meet critical permitting milestones and assure that construction and operations can commence on time, so we can ensure the commitments we made to New Jersey are realized,” according to a statement from Ørsted. “The petition process was recently put in place by the state to help New Jersey meet its clean energy targets.

“We continue to engage with local officials as this petition advances and aim to negotiate agreements with local communities that facilitate the development of offshore wind and benefit all New Jerseyans.”

Reaction to the plan during a recent public hearing was largely negative.

“It seems like this is almost a done deal,” Tim Flynn, an area resident, said during a virtual hearing Ørsted held last month. “It seems like this is being pushed on Ocean City. I’m very much opposed to this whole project. I think this is not going to be the end of people protesting this project.”

Ørsted is seeking easements on three parcels of land owned by the city, totaling just under an acre in size. All of the lots will remain undisturbed on the surface, the company stated in public filings.

Ørsted, which is developing the project along with PSEG, said the power lines from the turbines will be buried 50 feet below the beach and streets using a horizontal directional drill. There will be construction and excavation along 35th Street to Roosevelt Boulevard in the public right of way. The company said the work will not be done during the summer tourist season and the streets will be resurfaced at its cost.

“(It) would severely affect the ability of local governments to exercise home rule pertaining to the offshore wind farm project through the elimination of good faith negotiations, which clearly positions Ørsted, a foreign entity, in an advantageous negotiating position at the expense of the coastal municipalities,” Ocean City Council stated in a resolution passed last year.

Background Information previously reported by NJ.com is included in this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com.