Governor Phil Murphy has set a goal for 7500 megawatts of offshore wind-generated electricity by 2035. It is an ambitious goal. It is also a goal that leaves little time for the niceties of public engagement and dialogue. The state clearly showed that it has a plan, and it is going to implement it regardless of public acceptance. Two state actions this month make that abundantly clear.
On July 24 Murphy signed into law a bill that removed municipal control over where and how offshore wind warms bring their energy to the onshore electric grid. The bill permits approved wind energy projects to bring their cables onshore with or without municipal approval.
In the case of Orsted’s Ocean Wind project that means onshoring the transmission cables under an Ocean Beach, then along one of three potential street roadways and finally out Roosevelt Boulevard to Upper Township where the cables will connect to the electric grid at the decommissioned B. L. England plant in Beesley’s Point. Ocean City’s elected council fought the bill in vain.
The second state action this month was the state Board of Public Utilities award to Orsted for Ocean Wind II, a new additional wind farm to be located “adjacent to” Ocean Wind I. The specifics of that location are not clear.
So, while Cape May County residents and businesses have raised concerns about the potential negative impacts of Ocean Wind I, a 99 turbine farm located 15 miles offshore between Atlantic City and Stone Harbor, a second farm as already been approved, one of equal size to the first.
Cape May County concerns have included the potential for harmful impacts on the environment, commercial fishing, migratory birds and the important $7 billion tourist economy, which accounts for over 60% of the county’s jobs. What we have received is lip service about the importance of public engagement and how officials take the concerns seriously.
We are told studies have been done concerning the impact on the fishing industry and the environment, but they are not generally available. We are left to take the word of state and industry officials who have a stake in moving the projects along without delay.
We are told that this commitment to alternative energy is a necessary response to sea level rise and climate change. Perhaps it is. But is handling it this way the best option for generating the public support that the long-term struggle with climate change will require? The state’s commitment to push ahead with wind energy is unwavering. It would be nice to see some of that same unwavering commitment to public engagement, education and discussion.
“Democracy is messy,” Robert Kennedy said. Indeed, it is. Engagement must be real, and it must hold open the option that public comment can have meaningful impact.
Recently the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held a series of three virtual public comment meetings related to Orsted’s application for federal permits. It’s doubtful that 2 in 10 Americans even know that an entity called the Bureau of Ocean energy Management exists in the federal government. Those virtual session were not publicized in a way that would ensure the broadest public participation. The session were held because they are required by law before permits can be granted, but there was never a doubt that the permits would indeed be granted.
The state has committed itself to the offshore windfarms. No public hearings are going to change that. Needing a bill to ensure that municipalities do not interfere with the onshoring of high-energy cables, one was introduced, clear committees and was approved by both houses of the state legislature in just two weeks. Where was the public engagement on this bill?
There is no doubt that the state has tipped its hand. We can easily see that public engagement on the wind farms is a pro forma exercise with scheduled public hearings held when the law requires them.
When government officials assume that they know what needs to be done and have no need to honestly listen to communities impacted by their planned actions, they sow the seeds of government distrust and pushback against the elite.
Later when they find themselves unable to rally the public on critical issues, it might be useful to remind them they you reap what you sow.
From the Bible: Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. Proverbs 10:9