Report on Windfarms

by Paul Eidman, JCAA Board Member
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association October 2018 Newsletter)

Back in May, I attended my first public meeting about the offshore wind farms planned for the waters off New Jersey’s Coast. Little did I know I was entering into new and uncharted waters and I needed to ramp up fast just to keep up with the pace that all of this was happening at. Despite hearing discussions about offshore wind power in New Jersey years ago, I thought the issue was asleep. I came to realize that when Gov. Christie left office, a new door swung wide open and offshore wind power development is back on in a big way. I was surprised that both Gov. Murphy and Trump’s Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke were speaking from the same page.

The federal folks holding the meeting were from the BEOM, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which as it turns out, would be the first of dozens of acronyms that were hurled at me for the next hour and a half. I remember BOEM from many of the sand mining meetings over the past few years. They are the landlord for the ocean floor from 3 to 200 miles out, or, as we know it, the EEZ, Exclusive Economic Zone.

I was the only recreational fisherman in attendance, and there were over 50 people in the room. It was clear to me by the end of the meeting that more of us need to be engaged in this process from the beginning so we can reap benefits for recreational fishing. We need more fish attracting structures in the ocean and these platforms, if they are anything like the rigs out in the gulf, would be kickass spots for everything from Black sea bass to Mahi Mahi. Each one of these platforms will become a “fish factory” in addition to providing a holding area for many migrating species. There were. however, many commercial guys, mainly the trawler guys in the commercial clam, scallop and squid business. While they are skeptical of what offshore wind farms will do to their ability to trawl in these areas, recreational fishermen need to speak up because it will likely make our fishing better.

BOEM was soliciting input on a “call area” – which is a proposed area for further development in the New York/New Jersey Bight. At first glance of the maps, I was frankly shocked by the size. However, that is exactly why BOEM was hosting this meeting. They were looking for feedback on which places to remove from potential development. In fact, previous call areas in Massachusetts and Rhode Island were shrunk before leasing due to angler feedback. That is why it is so important for us to be there.

As an angler, I do have particular concerns about development. First, we need to be able to fish these things. BOEM told me fishing would be allowed right up to the base of the turbines as long as we don’t tie up. Access will be limited during construction, understandably. Also, I was concerned about ongoing monitoring to fisheries. We know these artificial reefs can be great for fishing, but we should be tracking all of the impacts. Many developers and BOEM are committed to this type of activity. I came away a little more assured about offshore wind, but still concerned that recreational anglers needed to provide input.

But it isn’t the last opportunity for us to provide feedback. Since this meeting I’ve learned a lot more about the process. First, BOEM creates a map for areas that could potentially be auctioned off for wind development. It then asks for input on where to or not to develop – which is what this meeting is. Then they will auction off pieces of this area to the highest bidder. Finally, that developer will submit a plan to BOEM that must be reviewed. Throughout these steps we will have opportunities to say what does and doesn’t work for anglers.

In addition to the future leasing of the New York and New Jersey Bight, there is an existing lease 12 miles of Atlantic City. The developer, Orsted, is currently doing a site assessment to determine the best place to locate turbines. They will share their plan with the public and we can provide input. There is also a small-scale demonstration project proposed for state waters off of Atlantic City called Nautilus. While this development could be good for fishing in state waters, environmental organizations are concerned about impacts to birds like the iconic Red Knot. Personally, I want to make sure these things benefit the entire ecosystem and am concerned about unintended consequences.

We also have an existing demonstration project off of Block Island, Rhode Island. Back in 2016, we completed construction on the first offshore windfarm in the USA, the Block Island Wind Farm, a small project consisting of 5 turbines that are now powering 17,000 homes and businesses on Block Island. They sit about 4 miles off the SE corner of the island and are producing about 30 megawatts of power. The transmission line runs from mid-island back to the mainland and works both ways.

It was barely a few months before mussels and underwater growth began to form on the bases and each of them became an ecosystem quickly. Fishermen began catching black sea bass, summer flounder (fluke) and cod soon after the construction stopped. The coast guard and the developers have reassured the public can have full access for anglers, divers and spearfishermen and that you can get as close as you want; you just can’t tie off.

The Block Island wind farm replaced an antiquated power plant that ran on diesel fuel that was brought over in a tanker truck on top of a ferry! The islanders were paying some of the highest rates in the country because of this, and it was dirty to boot. There was some savings gained by shifting over to wind power, but because the new system is only 5 turbines, the savings as compared to a system that would feed NJ & NY is not that great. As in many things, larger scale will make offshore wind energy cheaper.

Recently, base cost estimates for the new wind farm planned off of Massachusetts were almost on par with fossil fuels in the area. That’s what they call “parity’ in the renewable world and once that parity goal is achieved, there’s no stopping renewables from becoming a bigger part of the current BPU portfolio and hopefully displacing many fossil fuels. Offshore wind has the potential to reduce carbon emissions drastically, increase America’s energy independence and have a major impact on stalling climate change. In turn, this will help to keep many of our gamefish species hanging tight along our coast for all of us fishheads to enjoy!

I look forward to staying engaged on these important developments on offshore wind in the coming months. I’ll be sure to keep JCAA members and the board informed on where we can have the biggest impact to ensure recreational fishing opportunities are kept in mind as development moves forward quickly.

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