Offshore Wind Farms Have to Wait in New Jersey

Coastal communities are familiar with the possibility of wind turbines appearing on the horizon as the wind energy industry gets stronger in America. Acting Governor of New Jersey Richard Codey has decided to approach the possibility with caution, however.

He signed an executive order that enforces a 15-month funding and permitting freeze on all offshore, wind energy developments, and creates a Blue Ribbon Panel to study the costs and benefits of such developments. “Today’s action ensures that no offshore wind turbine facilities will be constructed for the next 15 months off New Jersey’s shore,” Codey said. “The Blue Ribbon Panel will take this time to study the appropriateness of offshore wind turbines facilities. This issue raises important questions about how we will deal with global warming and air pollution levels; and how we will utilize one of our most precious resources – the Jersey Shore. It is time for us to hear from the public.” Currently, there are no offshore wind turbine projects in operation in the United States. The blue-ribbon panel will consider potential environmental benefits and impact, economic costs and benefits, and will make policy recommendations. The panel will compare such projects with other power sources in terms of New Jersey’s long-term electricity needs. Gov. Codey isn’t the first to enact a freeze on wind energy development. Tom Gray, who is the director of Communications at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), said that a similar moratorium was put into action when Vermont was considering developing its wind power potential with land-based projects. But land-based projects have a significant amount of site specific variables that should be studied before a wind development is installed, he said. With all that has happened during the permitting process and studies for the Cape Wind proposal in Nantucket Sound, Gray said Gov. Codey’s reasoning for establishing a moratorium is a bit confusing. “The Cape Wind project should make it pretty clear what’s going on with (offshore developments),” he said. “People know that wind farms aren’t going to show up next week.” But the coast of New Jersey has an established tourist economy and abundant marine environment, and the protection of this resource is a primary responsibility of state government, according to the official order. A wind energy development could affect those community assets, and it is important to balance existing attributes with the state’s commitment to providing clean energy sources and emissions reductions. According to a statement from AWEA’s Executive Director Randall Swisher, a recent comprehensive study of an offshore wind project in the U.S. found little or no environmental impact from the project. Numerous state environmental groups such as the New Jersey Audubon Society, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the New Jersey Environmental Federation oppose a blanket moratorium on offshore wind energy development. Though the moratorium has some people wondering how a panel study could positively affect the growth of the wind industry in New Jersey, organizations such as the Clean Ocean Action applauded the Governor’s executive order. “Governor Codey’s action is a responsible and reasonable approach that sets a national model. The issues are significant, and a learned and careful study is warranted,” said Cindy Zipf, who is the executive director of Clean Ocean Action. The Governor appointed six people to the panel: Edward McKenna, who is the Mayor of Red Bank and a member of the State Planning Commission and will act as chairman for the panel; Timothy P. Dillingham, who is the executive director of the American Littoral Society; Theodore J. Korth, who is the Director of Policy for the New Jersey Audubon Society; Bonnie J. McCay, who is the vice chair of the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee; Diane Wieland, who is the director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism; and Scott A. Weiner, who is the director of the Center for Energy, Economic and Environmental Policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers.
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