Focus on how offshore wind gets built

Press of Atlantic City, November 14, 2021

Ocean City continues to polish its status as the poster child of self-absorbed opposition to clean energy from offshore wind turbines.

At first, it was as if the city suddenly awakened to discover a state and federal effort had been preparing for years to put 99 turbines 15 miles out into the Atlantic, and run an underground cable through the island to bring power ashore. Officials and residents complained, threatened to stop it — only to discover governments were committed to developing offshore wind up and down the Atlantic Coast, with broad public support.

Now, since even mighty Ocean City can’t stop what the public and their representative governments want, the mayor and residents have settled on shaking down the project for their own benefit.

Mayor Jay Gillian, until recently appropriately neutral about his city’s tiny role in an industry of great state and federal interest, said it’s unacceptable that the turbines would be even be barely visible on clear days — they shouldn’t be visible at all from the city. He wants project developer Ørsted to pay the city annually for having run a cable underground through it.

Residents at a recent hearing on the project asserted their self-interest directly, saying their price for going along with it is money. One asked why offshore wind is being done near Ocean City — demonstrating opponents’ remarkable blindness to the enormous resource in the ocean nearby and its benefit to the American public.

Meanwhile, Ocean City has gotten its power from huge unsightly towers and powerlines spread across the mainland, has gotten millions of dollars mainly from people in the interior to keep replenishing its beaches, and $400 million from the federal government for the lavish new driveway into the resort (which vastly increased the value of the city’s property and businesses). And now city people want to be paid because sometimes they might see tiny wind turbines on the horizon?

The worst thing about Ocean City’s poor grasp of climate, clean energy and public policy is that it creates a pointless distraction from where attention is much needed in the creation of America’s offshore wind industry. How that industry is developed and who pays for it will matter greatly to everyone in New Jersey and beyond.

Here’s an example of the failure of attention. Coverage of a recent study proclaimed U.S. offshore wind would be worth $109 billion to other businesses in its supply chain during the next decade. A number like that might help soften people up for big increases in their electric bills and taxes in support of this industry. But as a veteran South Jersey economist, Richard Perniciaro, pointed out in an online comment to that story, “Why would anyone base decisions on a report from a research department funded by and supportive of the industry in question?” The study was by the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, a project of the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment that supports the advancement of offshore wind.

Speaking of supply chains, the offshore wind industry is having trouble securing the materials and components it needs, and expects things might be worse next year. Delays and price increases are forecast.

New Jersey and the other states along the East Coast ignored our call years ago to keep offshore wind costs under control by taking a regional approach to developing the industry.

Everyone who pays an electric bill in New Jersey — and ultimately isn’t that everyone? — should ignore the ingrates in Ocean City and concentrate on making the state and federal governments develop offshore wind as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

The vast clean energy resource off South Jersey’s shores must be tapped. How much that costs is still up in the air.

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