Ahead of a unanimous March 6 vote approving a third solicitation of offshore wind projects here in the Garden State, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) President Joseph Fiordaliso described the move as another step forward in the state’s offshore wind development.
The solicitation approval for new potential projects comes at a tenuous moment for the burgeoning sector, as a slew of whale deaths has accelerated calls to halt activity by offshore wind opponents. It also comes as Gov. Phil Murphy presses forward with ambitious climate goals that include producing 11 gigawatts of offshore wind energy – enough to power more than 3 million homes – in the Garden State by 2040.
“We work very closely and take very seriously the effect, or lack thereof, it may have on marine life,” said Fiordaliso during the hearing. “We’ve heard a lot in the past number of weeks and months of whales dying and washing ashore. They have done autopsies on these whales and have not come to any conclusive decision that it’s caused by any activity in the ocean regarding wind turbines.”
In the last few months, numerous dead whales have washed ashore on area beaches, including a recent one in Seaside Park.
They have done autopsies on these whales and have not come to any conclusive decision that it’s caused by any activity in the ocean regarding wind turbines.
— Joseph Fiordaliso, president, NJBPU
To date, federal agencies as well as the Marine Mammal Stranding Center have concluded that a number of the deaths were caused by ship strikes. While further testing and necropsies continue, offshore wind, so far, has not been pointed to as the cause of these deaths.
But many Republican lawmakers at the local, state and national level as well as a segment of environmental activists, such as Clean Ocean Action, have called for a pause in offshore wind activity until more is known. In Trenton, Senate Republicans have called on the governor to issue a temporary 30-day moratorium on the survey work to see if the trend in whale deaths changes when the work stops.
“It seems like every day we have another report of a dead whale floating offshore or landing on one of our beaches,” said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-25th District. “How many more dead whales does Gov. Murphy need to see before he finally takes action? We need to investigate what’s causing these deaths to learn if it’s something we can easily fix.”
Those calling for the pause have suggested that the sonar mapping, drilling and seismic testing for offshore wind may disrupt the ability of whales to navigate safely, which is possibly leading to the spike of deadly groundings and vessel strikes since December 2022.
Clean Ocean Action has been vehement about a pause in the activity until more is learned, and last month, held a “Save the Whales” rally in Point Pleasant Beach.
“It is reckless to be soliciting for more offshore wind development when current projects are moving faster than scientific data can be collected and scrutinized to ensure protection of marine life,” Clean Ocean Action wrote in a social media post responding to the decision. “Project impacts from previous solicitations are still unknown, not to mention the concern about the grim recent record whale and other mammal deaths. It also does not allow for any lessons to be learned. That is why COA is calling for a comprehensive, scientific, independent, peer-reviewed pilot study of the true costs and benefits, and risks and returns of offshore wind.”
Pointing to the lack of conclusive evidence linking offshore wind activity to whale deaths, Murphy has been steadfast in pressing ahead.
This third solicitation seeks to award 1.2 gigawatts and 4 gigawatts of offshore wind activity, which builds on the previously awarded 3.75 gigawatts. The application window opened March 6 and will close June 23, 2023.
As a result of the first two solicitations, three projects are currently in the works, which NJBIZ has extensively reported on: Ocean Wind 1 & 2 and Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind. State officials estimate the trio of projects will inject $4.7 billion into New Jersey’s economy while creating more than 10,000 jobs.
“Today marks a pivotal next step toward accomplishment of our offshore wind development goals,” said Murphy. “Offshore wind constitutes a crucial component of our journey to 100% clean energy by 2035, a benchmark that solidifies our position at the national forefront of climate action. In addition to safeguarding our communities form the worsening impacts of climate change, this emerging industry will generate thousands of good-paying jobs and economic opportunity across the state.”
To date, the NJBPU has awarded 3.75 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity.
In addition to the solicitation, the Board also issued its Third Solicitation Guidance Department, which was developed in coordination with public stakeholders, and provides the solicitation’s mechanics and timeline, project application requirements, and evaluation criteria.
NJBPU plans to begin making decisions on submitted applications by the end of this year.
“New Jersey continues to back up our climate goals with concrete action as a leader in the clean energy transition,” said Fiordaliso. “As we continue to take major, historic steps forward to meet Gov. Murphy’s new goal of 100% clean energy by 2035, today’s actions will not only help us fight the ravages of climate change, but represent another investment in bolstering our local union workforce, ensuring our families and communities reap the benefits of our clean energy transition.”
The solicitation was applauded by New Jersey Wind Works, a coalition of environmental advocates and faith and labor leaders.
“I applaud the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities for taking the steps necessary to keep us on track,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director, New Jersey LCV. “The transition to a clean energy economy is vital to protecting the sensitive coastal communities currently threatened by increasingly severe storms, as well as improving our air quality and protecting our health. We look forward to working with the Murphy Administration and legislative leaders to position New Jersey as a national lead in advancing responsibly developed offshore wind with the good local jobs it creates and the fight against climate change.”m