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The dirty details of offshore wind’s ‘clean energy’ | Opinion

Posted on July 11, 2023

“In New Jersey, it’s go hard or go home,” Gov. Phil Murphy Tweeted after signing an executive order to up the state’s offshore wind goals by nearly 50% last September.

Perhaps, the governor didn’t consider the fact that those in the state who question the perils and efficacy of offshore wind turbines are playing by the same saying.

This “clean energy economy,” as conceived and fast-tracked by the Biden administration (and treated as the holy grail by Gov. Phil Murphy), has been shoved down the throats of those who live in shore communities, even though the risks to every aspect of marine life are poorly understood and little evidence exists that wind energy will make a noteworthy impact on climate change.

And oddly, offshore wind development has become a truly partisan issue, with supporters steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any risk of what may be one of the greatest ecological unknowns into which we’ve ever planned to dive headfirst.

In May, the New Jersey Wind Works Coalition — a collection of environmental groups that support offshore turbines — sent out a press release titled “Republicans spread lies about offshore wind to protect Big Oil companies.”
Really? It seems that Big Oil and Big Wind are now “friends” with benefits.

Deep in President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) there’s a perplexing provision that links offshore wind leasing to oil and gas drilling. All post-IRA offshore wind leases are tethered to making available a whopping 60 million acres of seabed for oil and gas drilling the previous year for the next 10 years. In effect, whatever seabed is leased out by the government for wind energy will mean millions and millions of acres of ocean floor must be offered up for fossil-fuel extraction.

And as for the often-used claim of offshore wind being clean and green, that’s not exactly correct, either.

Whether the power comes from fossil fuels or ocean breezes, there’s still the use of one of the most potent and persistent greenhouse gas known, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), a manmade compound used widely in the electrical industry. Once SF6 escapes, it lives on in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

It turns out that this heat-trapping gas is used in not just each individual wind turbine, but in the offshore and onshore substations that the technology requires as well.

As for the risks to marine and avian life, both the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection admit that we have no idea what the end results of this vast experiment may be.

There are, however, some very disturbing clues.

Take Ørsted’s plan to run electricity from its Ocean Wind turbine area off Atlantic City by burying two electric transmission cables four feet into the seabed to go on a 35-plus mile journey up to Island Beach State Park. There, they will go under the dunes and beach emerging to “traverse Barnegat Bay through the use of open-cut trenching,” ultimately landing at the former Oyster Creek nuclear-generating station.

Denmark-based Ørsted received permission from the NJDEP to do just that, despite acknowledgment from the agency that such trenching in the bay will cause a “permanent disturbance” in certain areas, including freshwater wetlands. The solution, according to the NJDEP, is for Ørsted to make a deposit of $7,504,570.16 in the state’s “shellfish” account to pay for the value of shellfish habitat that will be “impacted,” along with a “mitigation proposal” concerning the “direct impacts” this action will have on migratory birds, a “plan” to minimize water turbidity, and another paper-project to try and figure out how much of the ecologically vital submerged aquatic vegetation in the bay this scheme will destroy.

Yet, the NJDEP signed, sealed and delivered the approval permit, good until 2028, to Ørsted in April.

Given the risk that offshore wind development could well be ecologically damaging to ocean habitats, including the nearly extinct North Atlantic right whale, can this form of energy truly be referred to as “clean,” or even “renewable”?

Linda Bonvie is an environmental journalist based in Tuckerton, and co-author of several books on health including, “A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives.”

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