Study favorable for proposed N.J. offshore wind farms

Posted: June 19, 2010

Developing wind turbines off New Jersey's coast would have a "negligible" impact on the environment, according to preliminary results of a two-year study released Friday by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"We now have the science and data needed to take the first steps toward making wind energy projects a reality for New Jersey," Commissioner Bob Martin said in a written statement.

Officials said the $7 million study, meant to provide a scientific baseline for direct planning for the turbines, should serve as a model for other states. The final report is expected early next month.

At least one environmental advocate questioned whether the state overstated the report's conclusions to advance a political agenda.

No offshore wind farms have been built in the United States. New Jersey is among the states rushing to prove themselves a force in the fledgling industry and secure jobs that could come with siting manufacturers of turbines instate.

Martin said Friday that New Jersey's study put it "far ahead of everyone else." At least one other state in the Northeast is conducting a similar review, however. Rhode Island is finishing a two-year study of an area that includes a proposed wind farm site near Block Island. Results are expected to be announced this summer.

New Jersey's study covered 1,360 square nautical miles off the coast between Seaside Park and North Wildwood. It was conducted by the research firm Geo-Marine Inc.

Scientists considered the movement of 153 bird species, the location of commercial and recreational fisheries, the salinity and temperature of the water, and variations on the ocean floor. They used recording devices to log 38,700 hours of dolphin and whale songs.

The data helped create a map of the region's environmental sensitivity. Labeled most sensitive were areas with the highest species density or most critical habitat - generally, those farthest inland and around shoals, or shallow, sandy areas where fish and their prey congregate.

Even those places could be developed for wind power, said Gary Buchanan, project manager with the state Office of Science. But the projects could be more expensive and require more work to offset the effect of development.

Buchanan said the study would not replace project-impact assessments required of developers. "It wasn't meant to be the final say on these resources," he said.

Four projects have been proposed off the New Jersey coast. A proposal for 20 megawatts located in state waters three miles from Atlantic City and estimated to cost up to $120 million is farthest in the permitting process.

Fishermen's Energy hopes to build the generator as soon as next year, then move on to a 350-megawatt project farther offshore. President Daniel Cohen said that pursuing the report was an example of the "phenomenal leadership role" New Jersey has taken in the renewable energy field.

The research was praised by several environmental groups that said they were happy to see the state push forward on renewable energy. The New Jersey Environmental Federation called the report "top-notch."

Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, criticized state officials for jumping to the conclusion that turbines would have a "negligible" impact.

The study surveyed the current state of the ocean resources, he said. It did not include extensive analysis of what would happen after turbines were built.

"This is politics," Dillingham said.

Even if the report helped offshore wind developers to bridge environmental hurdles, a major obstacle remains how to pay for the projects.

The Legislature is considering a measure to subsidize wind power by expanding an existing solar program. Electricity suppliers would be required to buy a certain percentage of credits from offshore wind generators, giving them a guaranteed revenue stream. The cost would be passed on to ratepayers, a result that some business and industry representatives have balked at.

Contact staff writer Chelsea Conaboy at 856-779-3893


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