by Christian Wade
A group of 30 New Jersey mayors are seeking a temporary moratorium on new wind power projects, citing a recent spike in whale deaths.
In a letter to President Joe Biden and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the mayors called for a suspension of wind power projects off the coast until federal and state governments conduct investigations to determine if activities are a “contributing factor in the recent whale deaths.”
The municipal leaders, who represent coastal communities that are reliant on beach tourism, said if a review determines wildlife is being impacted the projects should be halted completely.
“While we are not opposed to clean energy, we are concerned about the impacts these projects may already be having on our environment,” they wrote. “We again urge you to take action now to prevent future deaths from needlessly occurring on our shorelines.”
The request comes amid a rise in whale deaths on the eastern Atlantic coast, at least 10 of which have washed up on beaches in New Jersey and New York. Two weeks ago, a 35-foot humpback whale washed up on a beach along the New Jersey coastline.
To be sure, there is no evidence that existing wind farm operations contributed to the recent whale deaths despite the claims by mayors and other New Jersey leaders.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says collisions with vessels are behind many of the whale deaths. Since 2016, there have been at least 184 “unusual” humpback whale deaths, many of them attributed to vessel strikes, and fishing gear entanglements, the federal agency said.
Some groups have pointed to wind energy companies conducting vessel surveys off the New Jersey and New York coastlines using high intensity noise devices to study the seabed for placement of wind turbines.
The group Save Long Beach Island suggested the noise impact from the sonic testing devices could be driving whales towards shore, forcing them to become beached.
“The beached whales bear no sign of vessel strike or fishing gear entanglement, leaving natural causes or noise as the potential causes, and raising the likelihood that our concerns were well-founded,” the group wrote in a recent letter.
President Joe Biden is pursuing plans to add at least 35 gigawatts of offshore wind in the U.S. by 2030, beginning with Vineyard Wind off the southern coast of Massachusetts. Biden says the plan will boost the nation’s clean energy industry and create jobs.
Connecticut is expected to get power from two major wind farms planned off the southern New England coast, including the Park City Wind project. The 804 megawatt wind farm, once constructed, will supply about 14% of the state’s electricity and prevent an estimated 25 million tons of excess carbon emissions, according to the project’s developers.
The Block Island Wind Farm, which consists of five turbines, was the nation’s first when it launched in 2016. Orsted Offshore North America, which operates the wind farm, has other projects in development with Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland and New York.
But mayors are skeptical about the rush to construct towering wind turbines off the New Jersey coast, raising concerns about the potential impact on the fishing industry, whales and other marine life and tourism in coastal communities.
They’ve won support for the effort from Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation, several of whom have made similar calls for a wind power project moratorium.
They include U.S. Reps. Chris Smith, R-NJ, and Jeff Van Drew, R-NJ, who have filed legislation calling for an investigation into the environmental review process for the “rushed development” of offshore wind farms along the New Jersey-New York coastline.
“The unknown impacts of these offshore wind projects raises serious concerns,” Van Drew said in a recent statement. “These projects will have substantial impacts on the local tourism industry, the fishing industry, and the surrounding environment.”
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Christian Wade is a contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “Humpback Whale” by Todd Cravens.