TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that denies municipalities their traditional control over where and how cables from offshore wind farm projects can come ashore.
According to the bill, a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) approved project can locate, build, use and maintain wires and cables that are associated with the transmission of electrical power from offshore wind farms to land-based infrastructure.
The state legislature can move quickly when it wants to. The bill, introduced in the state Senate June 10, passed both houses in Trenton by June 24. Murphy signed the bill into law July 23.
The legislation intends to prevent municipalities from unreasonably interfering in the onshore cable placements that will bring electrical power from the wind farms to shore-located connections on the electrical grid.
The concern was that some groups opposing the projects might use municipal control over the right of ways to delay them.
At issue for Cape May County is the Orsted/PSEG project, which plans to place 99 wind turbines 15 miles offshore, running from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor.
The current plan calls for running high-voltage transmission cables through Ocean City to the decommissioned B.L. England generating station, in Beesley’s Point, as a ready-made connection point to the grid.
There are three potential locations for the cables as they move through Ocean City. Orsted appears to favor traveling along 35th Street, but is also considering routes through 14th or Ninth streets.
State officials said the rushed legislation is a “mitigating process” if negotiations with municipalities break down. Since the bill gives the ultimate power to the wind farm developer, the negotiations are not between equals.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-3rd) said, “A high level of seriousness will be given to local concerns.”
Ocean City Councilman Michael Devlieger sees it differently, telling the public at a council meeting, “Essentially, they have taken our right of home rule away from us.”
Orsted’s Ocean Wind project is a centerpiece of Murphy’s push to have offshore wind account for 7,500 megawatts of energy in New Jersey by 2035. In 2019, NJBPU gave Orsted the bid to implement the 1,100-megawatt project, then the largest of its kind in the U.S.
Opposition to the wind farm in Cape May County has focused on potential environmental concerns, possible harm to the county’s tourist economy, its impact on migrating birds and other wildlife, and worries over the impact of the turbines on commercial fishing.
The legislation that blitzed through Trenton ensures this opposition cannot coalesce in attempts to use municipal powers to delay the onshoring of the cables.
Burzichelli argues that there is a “misunderstanding” with a “small group” of people trying “to make sure offshore wind does not happen.” He adds that “we are way past that now.”
After a period in which federal permitting slowed, things are picking up for the offshore wind contractors.
NJBPU June 30 announced two awards for a combined 2,658 megawatts of wind power capacity (https://bit.ly/3idA5o3). One of the awards went to a consortium of EDF Renewable Energy and Royal Dutch Shell for its Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind.
The other went to Orsted for Ocean Wind II, which Orsted said, in a statement, is to be located “adjacent” to Ocean Wind I. The meaning of adjacent is unclear.
Both companies also committed to significant investment in a new wind turbine manufacturing facility to be located at New Jersey Wind Port, a facility near the port of Paulsboro. This facility is also part of Murphy’s plan to use wind power to add jobs to New Jersey’s economy.
NJBPU states that the proposals were accepted when both included “strong environmental and fisheries protection plans,” the details of which are not yet publicly available.
At least one Cape May County municipality, Upper Township, favors onshoring of transmission cables from Ocean Wind I in the northern part of the county, having supported the move since Orsted was first given its contract.
In 2019, Mayor Richard Palombo sent a letter to Orsted, indicating the municipality’s strong support for using the B.L. England site as a location for connecting the wind farm capacity to the land-based electrical grid.
Ocean City Councilman Tomaso Rotondi, when testifying against the bill, argued it shifts authority over final decisions on cable runs away from the local municipalities, setting a precedent for the state to do whatever it likes to any town in the future. He sees the effort as another intrusion into New Jersey’s tradition of home rule.