OCEAN CITY, NJ — It’s just a cable meant to bring power from an offshore wind farm to a former coal-fired power plant in southern New Jersey, but it symbolizes a major challenge facing the renewable energy industry.
The fight for the cable has been going on for nearly three years, with no end in sight in a state whose officials are eager to get offshore wind power up and running.
Thousands of wind turbines have been proposed for areas along the US coast as the nation tries to meet the ambitious goal of having enough offshore to power 10 million homes by 2030.
So far, only one project is underway in Rhode Island, while another is under construction off Virginia, where two of an estimated 176 turbines are operational.
But obstacles like the only controversial cable in New Jersey demonstrate the challenge the offshore wind industry must overcome quickly if it is to come anywhere close to meeting its goals.
Josh Kaplowitz, vice president at American Clean Power, an association of renewable energy companies, said offshore wind power is critical to combating climate change, generating electricity and creating new jobs. But before that can happen, the energy has to reach the land.
“The fact is, realizing these benefits requires building onshore infrastructure that allows the power to come onshore and feed into the power grid,” he said.
Many in Ocean City, a popular beach community south of Atlantic City, are opposed to a project proposed by Orsted and PSEG that still requires state approval to bring a power line to shore.
“We don’t want this in any way, shape or form,” said resident Suzanne Hornick, a leader of local opposition to the plan.
She cites concerns about environmental damage, the possibility of consumers being charged higher fees and the general lack of certainty about what is a brand new industry in this country.
According to the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the offshore wind industry, there are 27 wind farm projects under development in the United States, and another five sites are scheduled for auction in California next month.
If even a small proportion of them faced lengthy legal or regulatory challenges, it could pose a serious obstacle to the industry.
Sam Salustro, a vice president of the network, said the industry must use as few cable landings as possible if it is to meet its ambitious goals.
“Cable landings have become a focal point of opposition to the advancement of offshore wind energy,” he said. “Avoiding these conflicts in the first place should be one of the top priorities in the industry.”
This can be done through long-term planning of transmission projects, and the federal government should encourage cooperation between states and transmission authorities, he added.
Anticipating such opposition, New Jersey changed its law to effectively strip local governments of control over offshore wind projects, empowering its state Board of Public Utilities to approve them when locals balk.
Nine Jersey Coast towns are questioning the cable plan that would come onshore under a popular beach and then run underground along a motorway to connect to the grid at the site of a former fossil-fuel burning power station that has been shut down .
Maryland has similar language in its offshore wind law, which exempts underground power cables that come ashore from a ban on beach construction in a specific zone.
In August 2021, a group of citizens filed a lawsuit against wind development off the Massachusetts coast over concerns it would reduce endangered whale species. Fishing associations complain about planned projects in Massachusetts and New York.
David Stevenson, a former DuPont executive who served on the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, is campaigning against offshore wind projects off the Delaware coast. He said local opposition prevented a power line from coming ashore at a state park.
Stevenson last year founded a multi-state group called the American Coalition for Ocean Protection that wants a permanent no-zone for all wind projects closer than 33 miles to shore along the entire east coast of the country. Many of the proposed wind farms would be between 10 and 15 miles offshore, making them visible from the beach on a clear day.
“I and many others assume that both state and federal agencies will ignore us,” Stevenson said. “So we’re making public comments and we’ve created the Ocean Environment Legal Defense Fund on the assumption that we’re going to ultimately win the lawsuit for violating a list of federal protective laws and regulations.”
Offshore Wind Companies Throw Money On Shore; Some of the payments are required by law, others are voluntary. Orsted and PSEG say they will pay $205,000 to impact just over half an acre of public land in Ocean City that will be preserved for open space and recreational use — 13 times the land’s estimated value.
Last week, oil companies Equinor and bp set up a $5 million community grant fund in New York.
The Offshore Wind Ecosystem Fund will provide grants for professional education and training, provide historically marginalized communities with access to labor and small business opportunities, and support minority and women-owned businesses in New York City to foster innovation that contributes to the growth of the offshore -Industry contribute wind industry.