By Kaleem Shabazz, Atlantic City Council Vice President
As our seaside communities continue to face the threats of climate change, preserving the Jersey Shore is an absolute necessity. Those precious 141 miles of Atlantic coastline are crucial to our state's identity and economy.
In fact, New Jersey without the Shore would be unthinkable. That's why I'm calling on critics of offshore wind energy to think again.
They're promoting the argument that proposed offshore wind projects threaten the Shore when the biggest threat comes from the devastation already occurring from climate change — destruction that clean, renewable offshore wind energy will help mitigate.
As these critics allege, the issue isn't that the turbines might be seen from the shore. Wind turbines will look like — at most — tiny specks on the horizon.
No, the real question is this: If New Jersey doesn't take steps to combat climate change now, won't flooding from rising sea levels and continually increasing severe weather end the Shore's beauty and value as we know it?
The pivot to clean energy and away from fossil fuels New Jersey is making is one of the most important steps we can take to protect the iconic Jersey Shore. With enthusiastic support from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and the Biden administration, we’re working toward generating enough wind energy to power 3.5 million homes by 2035.
"New Jersey can lead our nation in developing America's offshore wind power, which has the potential to meet 90 percent of total US energy demand by 2050," says a letter I signed along with over 100 other state and local elected officials in support of offshore wind in New Jersey. "We're at the vanguard of a new clean, renewable energy industry that will generate thousands of jobs, create prosperity for our communities, improve our health, and help protect our coastlines. Offshore wind is key to New Jersey's future."
Offshore wind has a significantly smaller environmental footprint than power generation that uses dirty fossil fuels. Few other energy sources can power millions of homes with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite these proven benefits, offshore wind farms still face criticism related to marine life habitats, fishing, tourism, and the horizon's aesthetics.
But sea levels are already rising in New Jersey – more than double the global average, according to a 2019 Rutgers University report. The sea level along the New Jersey coast has increased by 1.5 feet in the past century. As the climate warms, rainfall and wind speeds are also likely to intensify during severe weather systems like those seen in Tropical Storm Elsa – a direct threat to thousands of homes, roads and infrastructure.
Faced with these threatening prospects, the aesthetic issues around wind turbines that one might see on the clearest day shrink in comparison. The Ocean Wind installation, New Jersey's first offshore wind project, is planned to be built 15 miles off the state's southern coast.
Additionally, experience in Europe and the first US offshore wind farm — off Block Island, Rhode Island — proves that recreational and commercial fishing can flourish near wind turbines. The submerged sections of turbines serve as artificial reefs for marine life and provide a new habitat.
The Block Island Wind Farm has also emerged as a popular fishing spot, with a 2019 study finding that many recreational anglers believe the submerged bases of the turbines have improved fishing.
The bottom line is that the arguments against offshore wind just don't hold water. If we want to preserve the Jersey Shore for future generations, offshore wind energy is a must.
Kaleem Shabazz is Atlantic City Council Vice President and President of the Atlantic City Branch of the NAACP.