Hundreds attended the first in a series of virtual open houses about a wind farm off New Jersey’s southern coast, which proponents expect to be the start of a new clean energy industry in the region.
Construction is expected to begin in the early 2020s, with the first project expected to provide power to a half-million New Jersey homes.
The event was held remotely because of the pandemic. Kris Ohleth, senior stakeholder relations manager for Ørsted, the Danish company that won the contract for the first round of wind farm construction, in New Jersey, said they would've preferred to meet with the public face to face, but said that option is not practical.
Participants in the Oct. 20 event signed up in advance and were emailed a link to the conference room. Before the event started, the link led to an image of a conference room much like any in the world, down to the lines of white folding chairs at a podium set at the front of the room.
It was possible to navigate the room using the computer mouse, with a line of nine doors to the left side of the room and displays on the wall to the right. Clicking on the displays would play a pre-recorded video on various topics, while the doorways led to break-out conferences that only opened after the main presentation.
“It’s kind of a 'choose your adventure' experience,” Ohleth said, at the event.
In her presentation, she described the project as bringing a significant number of construction jobs to the region while it is being built and said it will continue to employ people once in operation.
Ocean Wind, the project planned for southern New Jersey, is one of several planned along the East Coast, one that, Ohleth said, is centrally located on the Eastern Seaboard. It’s set to begin the lengthy federal approval process, which, she said, takes about two years, and could be operational by 2024.
Set about 15 miles off the coast, the wind farm will include 99 massive turbines that will be visible from the beach, from Atlantic City to Wildwood Crest.
The generating capacity will be 1,100 megawatts, enough to power 500,000 homes, moving toward a state plan to power more than three million homes with renewable sources by 2035.
Each turbine will be more than 900 feet high from the highest point of the spinning blades. Ohleth described them as likely to be faintly visible on the clearest of days and pointed people to renderings available online, showing the likely view from area beaches.
At one of the breakout sessions, a woman said her house is about 15 miles from the Ocean Casino and Resort, in Atlantic City, a mirrored building that stands less than 700 feet and can be seen from throughout the area.
Jessica Kimball, representing Ørsted, said the renderings are an accurate depiction of the visual impact of the turbines, adding that the visual context will also impact the perception of the turbines from the beach.
Several speakers through the afternoon sessions said the company faced a balancing act, trying to accommodate recreational and commercial fishing interest, tourism concerns, and shipping lanes.
The turbines were relocated farther off the beach from the original plan, as part of that process, but the project area is limited, and the farther from shore the turbines are placed, the farther the electrical cable must be run.
Another participant asked if they could be relocated farther offshore to preserve the beach views.
“We have to stay within this lease area," responded a company representative. That does not leave room to move north or east.
The break-out rooms, which led to additional meetings, also held through Zoom, included panels on project renderings, fishing, shipping, navigation, environment and permitting, economic development, landfall and routing, and a final meeting on the project overview.
Participants could change meetings or stay in one meeting for an extended period.
Local resident Kathleen Spaeth questioned where the power would land. The company is considering three options for bringing cables in from the wind farm and powering the utility grid, including a site in Atlantic City, the former nuclear plant, in Ocean County, and the site of the idle B.L. England generating station, in Beesley’s Point.
Staff members said they will need a place to bring the electricity to consumers.
The energy created offshore will need to find its way to the grid,” said Marc Reimer, on behalf of Ørsted. “The best way to do this is to connect at existing substations.”
He said two of the three sites under consideration would be chosen, adding that the company would seek to minimize the environmental impact.
If the Upper Township site is chosen, lines will land in Ocean City and continue under existing streets, like other utility work, then continue to the former power plant on the bank of the Great Egg Harbor Bay.
“I’ll be honest, running cables west, through Ocean City and Upper Township, that’s a rather populated area that you’re going to be going through,” said Spaeth.
Plans were to have a final decision on the landing sites by the end of 2020 but delays from the pandemic may mean that decision could be made early next year, a representative said.
Some fishing interests were skeptical about the proposal, although the wind power company said it strives to co-exist with the fishing industry. Boats would be allowed in the project area, including fishing boats, representatives said, at the meeting, although they would not be allowed to tie up to the base of the turbines.
The expectation is that larger ships would not cut through the area, such as oil tankers and massive international cargo ships.
At the meeting, Upper Township resident Ralph Cooper asked if the company considered the projected sea-level rise. Ohleth said the turbines are far above the water and the foundations completely submerged and designed to be inundated, as would the boxes where the connections were made on land. She said the substations would conform to current flood resiliency standards.
Additional sessions were planned Oct. 21 and Oct. 24.
To contact Bill Barlow, email email@example.com.