New Jersey coast ideal for wind power

A two-year research project led by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and made public Friday shows there would be minimal environmental impact at sites proposed for several wind energy projects off the New Jersey coast.

Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced the results of the two-year study Friday. Martin says the study found little impact on birds, fish and other marine life caused by construction of wind turbines located up to 20 miles off the coastline.

The information can be used to support evaluation of pilot projects by New Jersey-based wind energy developer Fisherman’s Energy and for future studies by private companies.

Martin says the findings make wind farm projects and job creation a reality for New Jersey. The waters of the Jersey Shore may soon become home to the nation’s first deepwater wind turbines. New Jersey officials recently announced the state would help fund an initiative by Garden State Offshore Energy to build a 350-megawatt wind farm 16 miles (26 kilometers) offshore.

The state wants by 2020 many more of these wind farm, at least 3,000 megawatts worth, or about 13 percent of the state’s total electricity needs.

"This is probably the first of many ambitious goals to be set by states," says Greg Watson, a senior advisor on clean energy technology to the governor of Massachusetts. "Three thousand megawatts of wind power is significant. With that you’re able to offset or even prevent fossil fuel plants from being built."

The federal government is about to open up to wind energy development vast swaths of deep ocean waters, and states and wind farm developers are vying to be the first to seize the new frontier. Wind farms in these waters can generate more energy than nearshore and onshore sites, they don’t ruin seascape views, and they don’t interfere as much with other ocean activities.

New Jersey’s plan was prompted, in part, by new federal rules that will greatly expand the territory in which developers can build offshore wind farms.

But opening up the shelf may be the only way a viable offshore wind power industry can develop. Wind turbines often have to be smaller and fewer to minimize the impacts.

Leasing the outer continental shelf may solve some of these problems and open a tremendous energy resource. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., estimate that the wind in this territory could generate nearly 1000 gigawatts—a little more than the current U.S. electrical capacity.

The Sierra Club of New Jersey described the study as a step towards clean energy and reducing New Jersey’s reliance on fossil fuels and finite resources but also said it slowed the process of implementing wind power.

"This report clearly shows that New Jersey can have wind farms off the coast that will help provide clean energy for the state with negligible risks to the environment, Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club director, said. "The Sierra Club believes that this report is a big step but the state needs to move forward on permitting and funding for offshore wind energy."

Offshore wind farms can get much closer to some of these coastal cities without having to run long transmission lines over rocky terrain and through urban areas.