Offshore wind energy developer Ørsted is introducing the New Jersey public to its Ocean Wind project – at a planned 1,100 megawatts the largest U.S. waters project to date.
“New Jersey is at the epicenter of offshore wind,” said Kris Ohleth, Ørsted’s senior stakeholder relations manager, as she opened the company’s first meeting in Atlantic City Monday evening. “We can supply the nucleus of the supply chain.”
That’s music to the ears of southern New Jersey political and labor leaders, in a region that never fully recovered from the Atlantic City casino industry’s downturn and construction recession after the 2008 financial meltdown.
Ørsted opened an office in the city last year to prepare for building the Ocean Wind project on a federal lease 15 miles offshore, and it’s expected the company could soon pick a location for its onshore support station and docks on the city waterfront.
That would represent 70 permanent jobs, beyond the 3,000 construction jobs the company predicts for its building cycle through to 2024. The company is already working with the city school system and Richard Stockton University to recruit future workers and plan for training and workforce development.
New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry is still waiting to see how the details of the plan evolve. The long-established mobile trawl gear, scallop and sea clamming operators have been particularly outspoken, warning like their New England colleagues that missteps by the company and federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management could put them out of business.
“These windmills are going right in prime fishing grounds. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to lose some fishing grounds,” said Michael LaVeccia, vice president of operations for LaMonica Fine Foods, a Millville, N.J. processor of surf clams and ocean quahogs.
The clamming industry sees two must-haves if it is to co-exist with a new wind power industry, LaVecchia said: two-mile clearances between turbine towers, to ensure clam boats can maneuver towing their heavy hydraulic dredges, and a minimum 6-foot depth for burying power transmission cables in the sea floor.
There are plenty of unknowns beyond that, both commercial and recreational fishermen say. The big New Jersey party and charter boat fleet is debating how laying cables, pile driving and electromagnetic fields from equipment might affect their seasonal fisheries.
Clammers are wondering how implanting rows of towers might alter current and tidal patterns, LaVeccia said.
“When we have a full moon we can’t catch clams,” LaVeccia said, referring to the stronger tides. “We don’t want to have the full-moon effect seven days a week.”
Ørsted held two additional sessions in communities where the Ocean Wind power transmission cables could come to landfall – the beach resort of Ocean City a few miles south of Atlantic City, and Waretown on Barnegat Bay to the north.
Both are near power plants of earlier technology: the coal-burning BL England plant, and the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, the nation’s oldest operating commercial reactor that operated from 1969 to 2018.
Those sites are attractive because they have a “hardened grid” of connections to power transmission lines that can handle the Ocean Wind output, said Ørsted’s Ohleth.
Some in the audience of about 60 at the Waretown event Wednesday saw opportunity for smaller Jersey Shore port towns to support a new wind industry. Ohleth said Ørsted already has agreements with Rutgers, Rowan and Stockton universities to work on future worker training and recruitment.
Fishermen are still looking for definitive answers about how their industry will coexist.
“We keep saying the same things,” said Peter Himchak, a retired New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist who has been representing the ocean clamming industry in advocating for two-mile spacing between turbine towers.
Eddie Yates, a captain out of Barnegat Light, N.J., representing the United Boatmen party and charter boat group, said his colleagues are concerned that restrictions could be imposed around turbines.
Coast Guard officials have said in other public forums that they will not restrict access to waters around turbines. But Yates said there are no definitive answers yet from the wind developers.
“How close is safe? They don’t have an answer for us. It’s as close as you want,” said Yates. “But the first passenger vessel that hits one, there will be trouble.”
There is not enough information to predict environmental effects from the kind of massive turbine array Ørsted is planning, said Bill Wasilewski, a Barnegat Light fisherman, as he moved among tables talking to Ørsted workers.
“I’m all about green energy, even if it costs you a little more to get there,” Wasileski said. But the science is lagging far behind the pace of the oncoming industry, he said.
“It takes three years to get an EIS (environmental impact statement) for a fisheries plan. None of that has happened,” he said. “I’d rather see this on a smaller scale to start. But they don’t want to hear that.”