Without offshore wind, NJ faces billions in shoreline damage, officials argue

Source: By Amanda Oglesby, Asbury Park Press • Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2021

More than 100 New Jersey elected officials released a letter Tuesday supporting offshore wind projects along the coast, adding that doing nothing to address climate change would result in billions of dollars in losses to communities across the state.

Elected Officials to Protect America — a network of former and current elected officials focused on environmental issues — organized the effort, saying offshore wind development will invigorate the state’s economy, provide thousands of jobs and reduce future impacts from climate change such as flooding and hurricanes.

“Offshore wind is the key to a prosperous and healthy future,” said Christopher Douglass, coordinator of the New Jersey chapter of Elected Officials to Protect America.

Without the projects, unabated climate change will lead to as much as $180 billion in financial losses in New Jersey due to storms, floods and other infrastructure damage, according to the organization.

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The wind turbines also stand to create a “reef effect” that will attract clams, mussels, oysters and fish to their ocean floor bases, said Mary “Sharon” Quilter, a member of the Toms River Environmental Commission and a Democratic candidate for the state Assembly in the 10th Legislative District, which includes the Shore towns of Bay Head, Brick, Lavallette, Mantoloking, Point Pleasant Beach, Seaside Heights and Toms River.

The mollusks around the turbine bases will help support the commercial and recreational fishing communities and also filter the surrounding water, she said.

“You have a whole ecosystem that’s being born off of these bases,” Quilter said during a press conference held virtually by Elected Officials to Protect America.

Other signers of Elected Officials to Protect America’s letter of support include Freehold Township Mayor Thomas L. Cook, Brick Mayor John G. Ducey and South Toms River Mayor Gregory Handshy.

Neptune City Councilman Glen Kocsis, Allentown Councilwoman Martha A. Johnson, Atlantic Highlands Councilwoman Lori Hohenleitner, Freehold Township Committeeman Lester Preston, Freehold Borough Councilman George Schnurr, Long Branch Councilwoman Dr. Anita Claire Voogt and Red Bank Councilman Edward Zipprich also signed the letter, according to the organization.

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Three offshore wind developments have so far been approved by the state Board of Public Utilities to begin construction off the Jersey Shore, pending other approvals.

Atlantic Shores, a project by Shell New Energies and EDF Renewables North America, and Ocean Wind I and II, by Denmark-based company Ørsted in conjunction with power company Public Service Enterprise Group, are part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan to have 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy supporting the power grid and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.

But despite the benefits touted by proponents — better air quality, high paying union jobs, carbon-free energy to 1.5 million New Jersey homes — opponents say the projects’ downsides are too great.

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Tricia Conte, who owns a summer home in Ocean City, said she formed the Facebook group “Save our shoreline – Stop the wind farms off the coast of NJ!” fearing the wind farms would bring irreparable harm to the Jersey Shore. Conte said she worried about the turbines’ impact on migrating wildlife like whales, seals and dolphins as well as an altered view of the ocean from shore, where many of the turbines will be visible.

“No one in this country would put wind turbines on the Grand Canyon,” she said. “We can’t do that. To people in New Jersey, (and) to me, the Jersey Shore is a national treasure, and I don’t believe I’m alone in that (belief).”

Conte said about 4,200 people have joined her Facebook group and 11,000 people have signed a petition she launched urging Murphy and President Joe Biden to abandon the wind farms plan.

The farms also threaten to raise prices on electricity and leave residents with “chaotic” and unreliable power sources, said Michael Shellenberger, an author of numerous books critical of mainstream environmentalism and founder of the group Environmental Progress, an organization that supports nuclear power plants as the lbest solution for emissions-free energy.

Offshore wind energy “doesn’t produce the power when you need it, and they (farms) produce too much power when you don’t need it,” said Shellenberger. “And both of those things incur costs on the electricity grid system.”

The wind farms also will threaten migrating birds, bats and insects along the coast, he said.

“The idea is that we’re going to make society and make the economy harmonize with natural energy flows, sunlight and lands, obviously that’s not going to work, because people need to use electricity at all times of the year and the day,” he said. “They end up making the electricity grids way more complicated, way more expensive, and way less reliable than if we just relied on natural gas and nuclear.”

Supporters of offshore wind said the costs — from a warming climate, rising sea levels and increasing flooding — will be far more expensive in the long run than building offshore infrastructure now.

“There are tremendous costs for not moving forward that apply across the board to everyone,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. of the 7th Legislative District, which covers portions of Burlington County. “Healthcare (for one). There are costs in terms of our ability to survive on this planet. There are costs related to increased storms, increased flooding.”

“Some people will say… that (spending on offshore wind) is worth it,” he added, “because I’m getting much more back. I’m getting much greater return over that cost. I’m healthier. The environment’s healthier, and I’m leaving a legacy of a healthier environment to my children and reducing the intensity of storms.”

Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers Brick, Barnegat and Lacey townships as well as the environment. She has worked for the Press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, aoglesby@gannettnj.com or 732-557-5701.