ATLANTIC CITY — In August 2010, Gov. Chris Christie signed the Offshore Wind Development Act and promised a commitment to offshore wind development in New Jersey. Seven years later, proponents of wind energy say the time for stalling is over.
“For too many years, mid-August has become a bittersweet anniversary for New Jersey,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “That time is about to end.”
On Wednesday, before the backdrop of several large wind turbines that power the Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s wastewater treatment facility, the environmental coalition Jersey Renews held a panel conference to discuss advancing offshore wind projects in New Jersey.
The panel included voices from across all spectrums — faith leaders, environmental groups, health care and industrial groups — discussing the impacts of climate change, the future of offshore wind development in New Jersey and its economic impact.
“The science is clear. Climate change is real. Climate change is happening now, and we need to act now,” said Dan Fatton, executive director of Work Environment Council.
Offshore wind development has been a contentious issue in the Garden State for several years. After receiving state and federal support, a 24-megawatt demonstration project 3 miles off the coast of Atlantic City proposed by Fishermen’s Energy was denied its application by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. The regulatory agency cited cost concerns in denying the project. The wind developer and state legislators noted the positive environmental and economic impact.
The fight went to the Supreme Court — which sided in the state’s favor — and eventually Fishermen’s Energy ran out of funding before it could find a buyer for its energy.
Currently, two other offshore wind projects are in development 10 miles off the coast of New Jersey. North American DONG Energy and US Wind have both secured leases for development in federal water off Atlantic City. Fatton said DONG Energy’s proposal of 1,000MW of wind would basically fulfill the state’s initial goal of 1.1GW of wind energy.
Fatton said that while Fishermen’s Energy was a demonstration project, the two larger projects would help to bring down the cost of wind energy to ratepayers.
Although it missed the chance at being first in the nation, New Jersey has the potential to become the strongest producer of wind energy in the country, O’Malley said.
“The only thing that’s been lacking is the political will, and that’s going to change,” he said, of the upcoming gubernatorial election.
Both the Democratic nominee, Phil Murphy, and the Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, have voiced support for offshore wind.
Patrick Hossay, associate professor of sustainability at Stockton University, said wind energy will help lessen the impact of climate change, which he said threatens not only the environment but also the economy and people.
“We are human beings living on this planet together, and we are facing a combined threat,” Hossay said. “We’ve got people in Atlantic City that need jobs. Not just need jobs, need careers. And this is what brings that to them.”
Steel workers in New Jersey say they are ready and willing to get to work building wind turbines. John Shinn, District 4 director for the United Steelworkers union, said domestic manufacturing should be a key part of New Jersey’s offshore wind strategy.
“Offshore wind brings in the promise of hundreds of direct and indirect jobs in New Jersey,” he said.
The Rev. Ronald Tuff of Newark, a second vice president for the New Jersey Black Issues Convention and organizer for the religious environmental group GreenFaith, said the black community supports the development of offshore wind because it is more likely to be directly impacted by the effects of climate change.
“We want to be a part of it,” he said. “We want to have a decent job so we can feed our families.”
The local nurses union also came out in favor of wind development, citing climate change as a public-health concern.
“Our communities and my neighbors are getting sicker,” said Lisa Ruiz, of Egg Harbor City, a registered nurse with Shore Nurses Union, which represents the nurses at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point. “I’m mowing my lawn in November. What is wrong with that?”
Overall, the panelists said the impacts of climate change — especially sea-level rise — alone should be enough to move forward with wind development.
Hossay said that if New Jersey doesn’t, someone else will.
“We will increase our production and capacity, the question is where?” Hossay said.