NJ’s offshore wind developers to pay for environmental studies

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New Jersey offshore wind developers will help fund marine life research, paying $ 10,000 per megawatt of capacity to help New Jersey scientists better understand the impacts of wind farms on the Atlantic Ocean ecosystem .

The state’s Research Oversight Initiative will allocate a total of $ 26 million from power companies to study the impacts of wind turbines on ocean wildlife and commercial fishing, state officials say.

“There is a lot of data that still needs to be better understood, both during the planning phases, but also during construction and operation,” said Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection of the New Jersey, to a group of reporters during a virtual meeting.

The money will be distributed to New Jersey research institutes in cooperation with the Regional Wildlife Science Entity and the Regional Offshore Science Alliance, two independent organizations dedicated to learning more about the impacts of offshore winds on the environment.

Earlier this month, the Federal Office of Ocean Energy Management announced that it had completed an environmental impact assessment of a proposed wind turbine development on part of the ocean near of 800,000 acres off New Jersey and New York, an area called New York Bite.

A map from the Federal Office for Ocean Energy Management shows the areas considered for wind farms.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has already approved two offshore wind projects off the state’s coast: a 1,510 megawatt project, called Atlantic Shores, off Long Beach Island, and two projects called Ocean Wind 1 and 2, which total 2,200 megawatts, lie off Atlantic City.

The Research Monitoring Initiative is expected to help identify the impacts of farms on vulnerable ocean species, such as the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

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The construction of wind turbines will increase ocean noise and increase vessel traffic in the region, increasing the risk of ship strikes among this small population of whales that migrate along the New Jersey coast, according to the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This part of the Atlantic Ocean is also the foundation of The billion dollar New Jersey seafood industry inundated with scallops, clams, Atlantic mackerel and blue crabs, among other species.

Most of the offshore wind farms in the world are located up to 20 miles from the shore.

“With regard to some science and research (on the impacts of wind farms), I think there are a lot of unknown questions,” said Scot Mackey of the Garden State Seafood Association, a business advocacy group in the United States. New Jersey. fishermen.

Many in the industry are concerned that large wind farms could disrupt what he calls the Cold Pool, a convergence of different ocean temperatures that make Mid-Atlantic waters successful fishing grounds, Mackey said. It is not clear whether the miles of oceanic wind turbines will disrupt the cold pool and impact the fish and fishermen who depend on it, he said.

The turbines also risk making parts of the ocean off-limits to certain types of fishing, especially varieties that dredge the bottom for scallops or use large nets, such as the types used to catch squid, Mackey said.

“If these projects are really having an impact on right whale populations, shouldn’t we know that before we start running the monopolies (supports for wind turbines)? Mackey said. “Or if that impacts the cold pool, don’t we need to do some… design changes to make sure that doesn’t happen?”

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Fishermen are also worried that wind turbines will make their jobs even more dangerous, said Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance. Hawkins said wind turbines interfere with many types of radar. Although she has raised the issue with radar companies and offshore wind companies, as well as the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which leases sections of ocean to wind developers, there is no technical solution. ‘has still been found, she said.

Joseph L. Fiordaliso, chairman of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, speaks to reporters after awarding a proposal to build a wind farm off Atlantic City.

Hawkins said she hoped that part of the $ 26 million allocated for offshore wind research would go towards solving the problem.

“Once a project is built there is not much you can do to change the impacts, it’s all in the planning,” she said. “You can’t move the turbines once they’re there, if that turns out to be the thing that would help.”

Joseph L. Fiordaliso, chairman of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, said the $ 10,000 per megawatt fee will be distributed to researchers at New Jersey universities to answer many of these pressing questions.

“We’re putting together all this research and all this advice to figure out where we want to go, (and) how far we want to go,” he said in a virtual meeting with reporters.

LaTourette, from the Department of Environmental Protection, said his agency would continue to examine the impacts of offshore wind development, work to minimize environmental drawbacks and fill gaps in existing knowledge.

Shawn LaTourette, Acting Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, speaks as U.S. Representative Frank Pallone Jr. holds a press conference to announce bipartisan legislation to permanently ban offshore drilling the Atlantic Coast on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, NJ Friday, May 7, 2021.

“We have to make sure… that we fully understand the landscape and the aquatic environment. And we do that in every project,” he said. “We are looking at huge swathes of the ocean. There are inevitably gaps in the data.”

State officials have said the benefits of developing offshore wind farms – slowing or offsetting the impacts of climate change by reducing carbon emissions and switching to renewables – should outweigh the cons. Left as is, these carbon emissions contribute to sea level rise, increased flooding and heavier rainfall, New Jersey scientists say.

“We have the ability to stop this worsening,” said LaTourette. “This is the opportunity before us and we have to do it in a healthy, responsible way.”

Amanda Oglesby is originally from Ocean County and covers the townships of Brick, Barnegat and Lacey as well as the environment. She has worked for the press for over a decade. Contact her at @OglesbyAPP, aoglesby@gannettnj.com or 732-557-5701.

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