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Orsted wind turbines off of Block Island, R.I. Orstead

OCEAN CITY – In most lifetimes, there are only a few chances to participate in the birth of an industry, Kris Ohleth told a group of businesspeople gathered at The Flanders Hotel Feb. 25. 

This is one of those times, she said.

Ohleth is the senior manager for stakeholder engagement of Orsted, the Danish energy firm that has the contract to build Ocean Wind, the first wind farm off New Jersey, a massive installation planned for about 15 miles off the coast, set to power about a half-million homes when it powers up in 2024.

The multimillion-dollar proposal is the first in a series, a major part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan to move the state entirely to green energy by 2050.

Economic Impact

At the event, presented by the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, a packed ballroom heard details about the plans and the projected economic impact. Jobs were the focus of the day, and attendees heard that the project will directly create about 3,000 jobs.

Most of those will be in the construction of the massive installation, but there will also be hundreds of new jobs in the maintenance and operation of the wind turbines.

Ohleth said that the United States is already a generation behind Northern Europe in offshore wind power, citing an Orsted installation built close to 30 years ago. 

The American Northeast combines three important features that make projects like Ocean Wind feasible.

She showed a slide with three images, including one showing the lights of the East Coast from space.

“You can see there’s a huge coastal electricity demand between Boston and Washington, D.C.,” she said, pointing to the yellowish glow of multiple cities. “Coincident to that is a tremendous offshore wind source, really a world-class wind resource,” she added.

The winds along the East Coast ocean are strong and steady through most of the year. 

Finally, the continental shelf extends into the ocean. Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico may extend thousands of feet to the bottom, she said, but for miles off of New Jersey the water is 60 to 100 feet deep, making the engineering relatively easy.

Describing herself as a “Jersey girl,” Ohleth said wind projects will run from Massachusetts to Virginia, but she said she is proud New Jersey will be a leader.

“New Jersey is kind of at the center of the universe here. It’s at the center of the offshore wind universe,” she said.

The sold-out, paid event included opportunities to network with Orsted employees and the third-party organizations that will have contracts on the project, including those that will hire the fleet of boats expected to ferry workers to the offshore construction sites.

According to Ohleth, big opportunities are on the way.

“This is not just about Ocean Winds. This is not just about New Jersey. This is about a regional industry that we all have the opportunity to participate in,” she said.

Kris Ohleth, of Orstead, speaks to the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce in Ocean City Feb. 25 regarding local job opportunities with the company’s wind-farm project, planned to be located 15 miles off of the Jersey Shore. Bill Barlow

Commercial Fishing Concerns

Not everyone was as sanguine about the proposal.

Jeff Kaelin, of Lunds Fisheries, presented a slide that showed the overlap of the project area for Ocean Wind with the path of fishing boats in the region.

“The clam guys fish inside of there,” he said.

Kaelin stated that the fishing industry would face a disproportionate impact from the wind energy proposal. He described commercial fishing as a $6-billion industry that employs about 30,000 people in a half-dozen different ports, including the Lunds facility, near the Middle Thorofare Bridge, just in from Cape May Inlet.

He said they are meeting with Orsted “constantly,” an evaluation later confirmed by Ohleth, but he suggested that the number of jobs promised may be high. 

He cited a report from Scotland that indicated the number of jobs from an offshore wind project fell short of projections.

“Our goal is to coexist – you’ve heard that a couple of times already – but not be replaced in a rush to create new jobs that may or may not materialize,” Kaelin said.

Lund’s has its roots in the 1970s, he said, when new regulations kept foreign fishing trawlers out of American waters. 

When it started, there were few regulations on the industry. After more than 40 years, catch limits and regulations have been imposed.

“Literally every pound of fish that comes out of American waters and New Jersey waters today is by definition sustainable,” he said, suggesting that wind energy projects should face similar care and evaluation.

“Healthy skepticism as we move toward coexistence, I think,” he said.

Consider Tourism 

Also at the program, Cape May County tourism director Diane Wieland described the importance of tourism to the county and the state.

At no point in her presentation did she suggest the massive wind turbine installation would hurt tourism, but she drove home the importance of tourism in the region. It is by far the county’s biggest economic engine, she said, with most Cape May County jobs directly dependent on tourism.

It’s a multibillion-dollar industry, she said, and surveys show most visitors to Cape May County come for the beach. 

At another presentation in Ocean City earlier this month, Orsted officials presented graphics showing the massive wind turbines will be visible from the beach. The highest point of the turbine blade will be more than 900 feet off the water.

Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland attended Orsted’s job forum, hosted by the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce Feb. 25. Bill Barlow

Benefits Quizzed

In her presentation, Wieland offered a series of questions under the heading “what we don’t know.” Among them, she questioned the benefits and impacts of the projects to the county, its impacts on ecotourism and fishing, whether the structures will cause migrating whales and dolphins to move farther offshore and whether boat tours will be able to get in viewing range of the project.

Seeking New Jobs

As part of the same discussion, Chamber of Commerce President Vicki Clark said the chamber and the county have sought ways to bring new kinds of jobs to the county.

“There’s a real opportunity for diversifying economic prosperity in Cape May County from our traditional industries,” she said. That includes tourism and fishing. “Now we have this emerging offshore wind industry in the county.”

The event was the start of a conversation on engaging with the new industry, and finding ways for individuals to apply for jobs, she said.

“But also, we want to make sure that we develop the opportunity for the new offshore wind industry to coexist without displacing our historic and very prosperous industries of tourism and commercial fishing, without displacing the valuable industries that we already have,” she said.

Energy Future

Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the state Board of Public Utilities, opened the day discussing the reason for the wind energy project.

“We just completed our energy master plan, so if you have trouble sleeping one night, if I may make a suggestion, bring it up on your computer and read it,” he said. “It’s only 250 pages. Not a lot of pictures, but it lays out the road map to get us to our goal of a carbon-neutral 2050.”

Wind is a prominent part of the plan, as is solar energy and conservation and energy efficiency. A community solar program aims to bring solar energy to low- and moderate-income residents.

“If we’re going to really attack climate change, it’s not going to just take the people in this room. It’s going to take everybody,” Fiordaliso said. He said the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere is not just a New Jersey problem or an American problem.

Expensive? Yes, but Beneficial

Orsted expects to begin generating power by 2024. Fiordaliso said the state plans to solicit more projects in the effort, with a new goal of 7,500 megawatts by 2035.

“Again a very ambitious goal, but one that’s possible and one we will achieve, and I will ask you, again, is it expensive? And I will tell you yes, but let’s look at the economic benefits of wind,” he said.

More businesses will develop, jobs will be created and manufacturing will return to New Jersey, he said.

To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project. It was originally reported by Bill Barlow for the Cape May County Herald, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.

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