America’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm is Set to Rise in Jersey

In the open ocean off Atlantic City, a developer is soon to erect 99 turbines to power 500,000 Jersey homes—and (almost) everyone is happy about it. 

ocean wind
Among its many projects, Ørsted, the Danish-based developer of Ocean Wind, has two Burbo Bank wind farms with 57 wind turbines in in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales. Courtesy of Ørsted

It’s sunrise, 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City, with nothing but glassy water in every direction. A pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins parades past, playfully breaking the summer calm. Tiny storm petrels and the occasional northern gannet swoop into view. To the east, the sun inches above the orange horizon.

In the next few years, this placid stretch of water will become a construction site. By 2024, Ocean Wind, comprising 99 sleek wind turbines, will rise more than 50 stories above the ocean’s surface—all in service of New Jersey’s thirst for energy.

When completed, the $1.6 billion Ocean Wind will be the nation’s largest offshore wind farm—and an essential component of Governor Phil Murphy’s massive plan for renewables to meet 100 percent of our state’s energy needs by 2050.

While the idea of a vast, waterbound energy plant might seem like the stuff of science fiction, its planners say it beats any available alternatives for capturing wind as a renewable energy source for our state.

“For New Jersey, offshore wind is a clear favorite,” says Kris Ohleth, senior stakeholder manager for Ørsted, the Danish company that will construct the sprawling wind farm.

It could also be a favorite of Phil Murphy. In May 2018, just four months after taking office, the governor announced his ambitious Energy Master Plan, one that would make New Jersey a leader in sustainable power. The plan, said Murphy in his executive order number 8, will “combat the threat of global climate change and mitigate the accompanying risks to New Jersey and its residents.”

Global data indicates that the Earth’s temperature has warmed on average about 2 degrees Celsius over the past 200 years. Global warming, most scientists agree, is due to human reliance on fossil fuels—coal, petroleum and natual gas—which release carbon when burned. This prevents heat from escaping the atmosphere—what is generally known as the greenhouse effect. 

As a result of global warming, climate scientists say, the polar ice caps are melting, causing a significant rise in ocean levels. Extreme weather—hurricanes, heat waves, flooding and droughts—is another less quantifiable effect. Studies show that New Jersey, bordered by water on three sides, is particularly vulnerable.

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The 1,100-megawatt Ocean Wind is among the initial projects to get New Jersey running green. For the project, Ørsted leased 108 acres of open ocean from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The goal is to power some 500,000 New Jersey homes, roughly 15 percent of the state.

“Achieving the governor’s goal of 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035 will enable us to dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels and help us combat the severe impacts of climate change,” says Joseph L. Fiordaliso, president of the state’s Board of Public Utilities (BPU). Fiordaliso says the project will also help establish New Jersey as a player in the clean-energy supply chain of the future. This, he says, “will result in a tremendously positive impact on New Jersey’s economy.” 

The BPU awarded the project to Ørsted a year ago, but there is still a litany of state and federal approvals required before Ocean Wind can begin construction. 

Ørsted built the world’s first offshore wind farm in 1991 off Denmark and has since installed more than 1,350 turbines globally. The U.S. branch of the company is headquartered in Boston, with an office in Atlantic City. Formerly an oil and gas company, Ørsted began developing offshore wind power and divested all of its fossil-fuel holdings in 2018. Today, Ørsted’s projects are all wind, solar and biomass, with a “vision of a world that can run fully on sustainable power.”

The Ocean Wind lease area encompasses 250 square miles, starting eight miles east of the shoreline, but Ørsted has chosen to develop 15 miles offshore to avoid migratory coastal bird routes and reduce visual impact for beachgoers. 

Ørsted has developed wind farms on land in some states, including Texas, Nebraska and South Dakota, but company officials say that won’t work here. “We just don’t have enough land area…for the wind to really get up to a speed that makes it efficient to create electricity,” says Ørsted’s Ohleth, a New Jersey native. 

The GE-manufactured Haliade-X 12MW turbines to be used in New Jersey will stand nearly 600 feet out of the water. The nacelle, a cap to the aft of the turbine hub, houses all the energy-generating components. Power will run down the tower to an offshore platform (in some cases, multiple platforms), where it will be collected, boosted to a voltage level appropriate for long-distance transmission, and sent ashore via cables buried six feet under the ocean floor, so as not to interfere with commercial longline fishing or dredging.

The first transition station on land will be an underground junction box. From there, underground cables will deliver 800 megawatts of power to a site adjacent to the recently decommissioned Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Forked River, pending permit. The other 300 MWs will go to a substation in either Atlantic City or Ocean City. Utility companies such as Jersey Central Power & Light and Atlantic City Energy will then sell the energy to their customers.

Estimates indicate that Ocean Wind energy will cost residential ratepayers an additional $1.46 per month to cover the costs of development, construction, operations, maintenance and decommissioning. Peter Peretzman of the BPU notes that “typically, new renewable-energy technology is more expensive than traditional existing technology due to the economies of scale. The cost of offshore wind is expected to decrease with more and more development, and therefore become more competitive in the market.”

Overall, offshore wind is expected to be an economic win for New Jersey. Ocean Wind predicts $1.17 billion in economic benefits to the state and the creation of 15,000 jobs over the life of the project. Also, the state Economic Development Authority has created an Offshore Wind Supply Chain Registry, which will allow companies to bid on supplying components and services for future offshore wind projects.

In February, the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce held an Ocean Winds jobs forum to help fill 3,000 construction jobs and 69 full-time positions in operations and maintenance. And to sweeten the deal, Ørsted has signed a broad, nonbinding agreement to aid the EEW Group, a German manufacturer of turbine foundations, or monopiles, in setting up manufacturing in Paulsboro, in Gloucester County.

“We expect that one or more major components will be fabricated in New Jersey,” says Peretzman. “It is a priority for us to use New Jersey labor and manufacturing.”

Meanwhile, marine surveys have started for a second wind farm, Atlantic Shores, which would run offshore from Atlantic City to Long Beach Island. EDF Renewables North America and Shell formed a 50/50 joint venture to co-develop a lease area with the potential to produce approximately 2,500 megawatts, enough to power almost 1 million homes.

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Naturally, a project the size of Ocean Wind has its detractors. First, there are the giant oil and gas companies, which contribute about $200 million a year worldwide to lobbying against clean-energy projects. Then there’s President Donald Trump, who champions fossil fuels and often derides wind turbines. As recently as April, the president stated that windmill noise causes cancer; his claim is not supported by any scientific evidence.

In New Jersey, some have expressed fears that a wind farm would disrupt shoreline views. But Ørsted says the turbines would be only faintly visible from Atlantic City’s high-rise buildings—and only on the clearest days.

Initially, some environmental groups opposed the location of New Jersey’s offshore wind development. These groups applauded when the BPU rejected an earlier wind project that would have been built just 2.8 miles from shore—and within the migration routes of coastal birds. As for Ocean Wind, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and the New Jersey Audubon Society have all lauded the project as a responsible way to meet energy needs. 

In reviewing applications for offshore wind, the BPU has stated its commitment to ensure “that natural resources, including fish, marine mammals, birds and other wildlife are protected throughout the development and operation of current and future wind projects.” 

Those who make a living on the water or use the ocean for recreation are divided in their views. Many sport fishermen and operators of party boats and charters are excited about the turbines and their potential to act as artificial reefs, creating new underwater surfaces on which mussels and other static sea life can grow. 

John Toth of the Jersey Coast Angler’s Association and New Jersey Outdoor Alliance says the latter group favors wind farms to meet the state’s energy needs and combat climate change. But Toth himself is not sold. “There is concern that the electromagnetic effects of cables that transmit energy to land will disrupt the migration of fish,” says Toth. “This can result in a new migration pattern than one we know of today. And anchoring all these windmills and connecting their cables to each other, and also to shore-based infrastructures to disperse energy, will certainly have an effect on the ocean floor.”

Ørsted contends that its plans follow strict standards set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Toth is also concerned about access to the areas around the turbines. “Can we fish by them?” he asks. “Anglers have been told that we can. I would much prefer that we have something in writing to guarantee this.”

Ohleth assures there will be no restrictions to access. “Fishermen can fish right up near the turbines,” she says. “At the bottom of the foundation, we add what’s called scour protection—piles of rocks that prevent erosion. Essentially, that’s artificial-reef habitat.”

Chris Willi, who works the waters around Ørsted’s Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, agrees that the five turbines there have been a benefit for angling.

“Basically, any kind of artificial reef is going to attract baitfish and be great for fishing,” says Willi. “The Gulf of Mexico has 1,000 oil rigs. Ask anyone who has ever surfed the Gulf and they will tell you that fishing around the oil platforms is unbelievable. And this is a much cleaner industry than oil.”

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ocean wind

Turbine blades are lifted off a construction platform and readied for installation at an Ørsted wind project off the coast of Denmark. Courtesy of Ørsted

Still, some questions remain for New Jersey’s commercial fishermen. Captain Kevin Wark, owner of the 46-foot Dana Christine II, a gillnet boat out of Barnegat Light, has 40 years of commercial fishing experience. He has been an articulate liaison between fishermen (commercial and recreational) and the Ocean Wind project.

A third-generation fisherman with a healthy regard for sustainable energy, Wark works with scientists on protecting species like monkfish, shad, bluefish, harbor porpoise, whales, weakfish and Atlantic sturgeon. He has had lead roles on advisory panels in federal and state marine management and has been involved in studies with Rutgers and other area universities, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. He doesn’t dispute science, but rather embraces it.

“I’m all for sustainable energy,” says Wark. “And if offshore wind is going to be a reality, I want to make sure the fishing interests are properly represented.”

Wark is intent on seeing to it that offshore wind farms don’t further complicate a commercial fishing industry that is already hampered by reduced fish populations and increased regulation. He notes that while commercial boats won’t be restricted from the lease area, it’s unclear whether logistically they will be able to fish these grounds. It’s a special concern for those employing mobile gear like dredges and trawls.

Ørsted, it appears, has already taken that into consideration, spacing turbines a mile apart to maximize access for commercial boats. 

“It’s always been our goal to coexist with the commercial uses, with commercial fishing being at the top of that list,” says Ohleth.

Safety is another of Wark’s concerns. He’s pushing for installation of Automatic Identification System transponders on each turbine to help boats avoid accidents.

On the whole, Ohleth doesn’t see much that should block the way for the development of offshore wind. Even the Trump administration, she says, understands the opportunity. 

“Look at all of the Gulf Coast oil and gas company jobs that have completely transferrable skills,” says Ohleth. The Trump administration is “recognizing that this is a huge opportunity for economic development and clean energy. We’ve enjoyed bipartisan support in this industry, and that’s been part of the reason we know it will move forward in a very successful way.”

With the projected online date of 2024, New Jersey will find out in a few short years.

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