Although a majority of New Jerseyans support the development of offshore wind, that endorsement has fallen dramatically, according to a new poll released Tuesday by the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The survey found that just over half of residents (54%) are in favor of developing wind farms off the state’s coast versus 40% who oppose them.
That’s a stark plunge in support from a 2019 Monmouth poll on this topic, when favorability stood at 76% with just 15% opposed. From 2008 to 2011, that support was more than 80%.
“There was a time when wind energy was not really a political issue,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “It consistently received widespread bipartisan support for more than a decade. That is no longer the case.”
Of course, the issue has become a hot-button and polarizing one with a number of community activists, local stakeholders, and a group of Republican lawmakers vehemently opposing offshore wind development – buoyed by a rash of whale and dolphin deaths as well as expressed concerns about tourism, sightlines, noise and more – that has led to calls for a pause in action until more is studied.
As NJBIZ has reported, despite those calls for a moratorium, things have been moving full speed ahead on the state’s three approved offshore wind farm projects as well as with the solicitation of future projects.
Gov. Phil Murphy and other prominent backers have pointed to offshore wind’s potential clean energy and economic benefits, in addition to federal agencies and experts finding no evidence linking the early-phases of industry work (which currently includes ocean floor mapping using sonar technology) to adverse outcomes, as reasons not to pause.
The issue, though, is bubbling at the local levels up and down the Jersey Shore, and will be at the center of this fall’s legislative elections.
Monmouth found that the decline in wind energy support has been largely partisan with Republican backing plunging from 69% to 28% in the past four years. Support among independents has fallen from 77% to 52% while Democratic support remains stable at 76% (79% in 2019).
Favorable views of offshore wind in Jersey’s four coastal counties – which hew Republican – has dropped by a larger amount (from 75% to 43%) than it has inland (from 75% to 56%).
The reality of the politics, an upcoming election and current trends were further reflected earlier this summer when Democratic legislative leaders unexpectedly raised concerns about four news offshore wind project bids that were submitted to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
“The Legislature has concerns about the BPU’s approach on the offshore wind projects. There are still many unanswered questions about the economic impact these projects will have on ratepayers as well as potential impacts to one of the state’s largest economic drivers, tourism at the shore,” Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, said in a joint statement. “The BPU should be able to share these impacts with the communities affected and the Legislature before moving forward with these new offshore wind projects.”
In fact, the poll found that 40% of New Jerseyans say offshore wind farms will hurt summer tourism versus 9% who believe it will help tourism; 44% said it will have no impact.
As for the economic development aspect of the burgeoning sector – just 22% say that this industry would create a lot of jobs for the state while 55% believe that a few new jobs would be created and 15% expect no new jobs to be created.
When it comes to whales washing up on the shore, Monmouth found that just under half of respondents feel that offshore wind development is either definitely (20%) or probably (25%) contributing to the strandings. A similar number feels that offshore wind is definitely not (10%) or probably not (35%) a factor. That question also had a partisan breakdown – with more Republicans (63%) prone than Democrats (26%) to believe there was a connection between the incidents and offshore wind.
Going a step further, just 29% of those who saw a connection between the strandings would favor offshore wind development while among those who believe there is no correlation, 76% support it.
Some additional toplines from the poll include:
The poll was conducted from Aug. 10 to 14 with a random sample of 814 New Jersey adults.
“Changing the status quo is very hard, and the state has set some very ambitious goal to move to more renewable energy sources and reduce fossil fuel emissions. It is not surprising that more local concerns are getting raised as plans for offshore wind advance,” said Tony MacDonald, director of the Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University. “Clearly the state and wind industry have to do a much better job in reaching out to community to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of these projects as well as to counter misinformation about threats to tourism and threats to whales.”