Republican congressmen called for a halt to offshore windfarm development and GAO oversight of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) leasing process at a March 16 hearing on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey.
Reps. Jeff Van Drew and Christopher Smith of New Jersey, Andy Harris of Maryland, and Scott Smith of Pennsylvania convened the first congressional hearing into the matter amid a surge in whale and dolphin deaths along the New Jersey shore, which they attribute to survey work for the wind farms.
Twenty-nine whales have died on the East Coast since Dec. 1. And six dead dolphins have washed ashore in New Jersey in the past month, including one on the eve of the hearing.
More than 500 gathered in the convention center where the congressional delegation heard public testimony from local experts and stakeholders.
Van Drew explained that Danish energy company Orsted plans to build its newest offshore wind farm along the Jersey coast, just 15 miles from the Wildwood Convention Center.
“More than 50 percent of the wind energy leases have gone to foreign firms,” Van Drew said. “That means foreign countries will be controlling your power.”
He called attention to a letter from BOEM’s own fisheries scientist to the agency warning of dangers to whales from offshore wind.
“This is their own scientist warning BOEM that offshore wind will severely impact the whales, yet they moved ahead and completely ignored the few people in their group who would tell the truth,” Van Drew said,
“Like the canary in the coal mine, the recent spate of tragic whale deaths has brought increased scrutiny to the fast tracking of thousands of wind turbines off our coast,” he said.
Smith called the wind farm approval process “shoddy at best,” and called for independent analysis of the “ocean altering impact of these projects.”
He pointed to findings from a Carnegie Mellon study last year that noted a “substantial risk that Category 3 or higher hurricanes could destroy nearly half or more of the turbines at some locations.”
He expressed concern about the lack of “publicly available data on turbine failures,” and referenced a recent Bloomberg report that “Orsted A/S, the world’s largest developer of offshore wind farms asked authorities in April to stop maritime traffic near some of its sites after blades fell off one of its turbines off the coast of Denmark.”
Witnesses expressed concerns that nearly 100 towering wind turbines proposed off their coast would harm marine life and the environment, tourism, commercial fishing operations, and even safety on the water.
Seafreeze fisheries liaison Meghan Lapp testified that wind farm developments pose a serious safety concern for mariners, especially in fog and heavy weather.
“Orsted is not addressing it and the U.S. Coast Guard seems barely aware of it,” she said.
Lapp cited a variety of studies, including one by the National Academy of Sciences Engineering and Medicine in 2022 that found wind turbine generators can interfere with the radar systems that mariners rely on for navigation.
She is also concerned about the impact of turbines on commercial and recreational fishing.
“One European study showed a 10 percent decrease in primary productivity in the ocean inside and near wind farms.”
“We are facing the annihilation of our industry at the hands of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,” Lapp claimed.
BOEM has already leased 2.3 million acres and plans to lease another 1.7 million to install an estimated 3,500 turbines on the Atlantic coast.
“The harm to these marine environments cannot be undone,” she concluded.
“Offshore wind is a new use of marine waters, requiring substantial scientific and regulatory reviews,” added Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.
Bob Stern of Save Long Beach Island questioned the impact of offshore wind on New Jersey’s tourism economy.
“We know that noise has a harmful impact on whales, but we don’t yet understand the impact of that noise on humans,” he said.
Stern claimed that sound from operating windmills can be heard underwater from 93 miles and that, despite the promises of wind farm developers, many of the turbines will be visible from shore.
Daniel LaVecchia, owner of LaMonica Fine Foods, cited a Cape May County Tourism study showing that offshore wind could result in a loss of visitor spending of $993 million over eight years. In the study of visitors, 20 percent percent of respondents indicated that the development of offshore wind would discourage them from returning to the area.
Why the Rush?
Given these concerns, the congressmen questioned the rush to put thousands of these turbines in the ocean and whether the 2026 deadline to use a 30 percent tax credit funded by the Inflation Reduction Act could be driving the pace.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Quality issued a statement on the eve of the hearings saying there is “no credible evidence that offshore wind-related survey activities could cause whale mortality,” but that it will “continue to monitor” the facts.
NOAA says its marine mammal stranding network has not linked any of the whale deaths to offshore wind technology.
Offshore wind farms are a key piece of the Biden administration’s climate agenda as they push for clean energy development.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, is an ardent supporter of offshore wind technology. His goal is for offshore wind to produce 11,000 megawatts of power for the state by 2040.
The state has already approved three offshore wind farms and is expected to approve more.
Van Drew announced that a follow-on hearing will be scheduled this spring.