New Jersey environmental and utility regulators say they strongly support offshore wind energy as a way to address climate change, but they caution that the nascent industry will also bring side effects.
Scientists said at a forum Tuesday in Atlantic City that offshore wind equipment could harm marine mammals and birds if not properly deployed and operated. But several also said the wind industry can coexist with the environment.
Addressing the forum on offshore wind energy at Stockton University's Atlantic City campus, Shawn LaTourette, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said the state is committed to learning as much as it can about the impact wind turbines and power cables in the ocean may have on the environment.
But transitioning away from fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, which is being particularly felt in New Jersey, are a benefit, he said.
“New Jersey is ground zero for some of the worst impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to increased storm intensity, as we saw with the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida,” he said.
But that effort has a downside, too, LaTourette said.
“We do not know enough sitting here today," he said. "This is a new industry off the Atlantic coast. We are in many ways building the plane as we are flying it.”
LaTourette said several state and federal agencies will study the impacts of offshore wind construction and operation on the environment and wildlife, paid for in part by the companies.
Jim Ferris, an official with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, said a top goal is to connect several offshore projects with the smallest possible number of cables that bring power ashore.
“We really want to minimize the number of cable crossings,” he said.
Kathy Vigness Raposa, who studies the impact of sounds on marine mammals, said animals including whales and dolphins can be harmed by noise from pile driving and the operation of wind turbines. Impacts can include hearing loss, stress, changes to migratory patterns and decreased food consumption that can affect long-term survival rates.
Drew Carey, whose INSPIRE Environmental company studies the ocean floor, said wind turbines can actually create new ocean ecosystems that attract marine life including starfish, seals and top-line predators.
The company is wrapping up a seven-year study of the ocean floor around the Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island, the nation's first offshore wind farm, and said that so far it has seen no harm to marine ecosystems in the area.
Drew Tompkins, of the New Jersey Audubon Society, said offshore wind development and wildlife conservation can be compatible.
“That doesn't mean they will,” he said. “Wind turbines have to be placed outside of critical habitat and migration areas.”
He recommended placing turbines as far offshore as is feasible.