By Rick Mellerup
A new short documentary film regarding ocean wind farms, directed by Jon Coen, premiered last Sunday evening at the Union Market, located at the Tuckerton Seaport in Tuckerton.
A panel discussion followed at the event, which drew about 30 people.
Most of the attendees seemed to support wind farms off the Jersey Shore. The majority were clearly for green energy, saying something had to be done in regard to climate change. There seemed to be a general consensus that the effects of climate change are not just something that has to be feared in the future. Flooding, for example, is already a problem,
Cameron Foster, a young member of the New Jersey Resource Project, the group that organized the event, said three of his homes had been flooded in recent years, one of them far inland. “I have known climate displacement pretty much all of my life,” said Foster. “It’s not something that’s going to happen; it’s happening now.”
Many speakers, some of whom appeared in Coen’s film, some of whom served on the panel, and some of whom spoke from the audience, touted the benefits of the wind farm projects. (Coen is a SandPaper columnist. He is an avid surfer who unabashedly said at the meeting he is pro-wind farms.)
There’s an economic benefit, with the wind farms projected to create some 10,000 to even 20,000 directly related jobs, many well-paying union jobs. That’s not even accounting for economic spillover – the money spent by those employees for housing, at restaurants, at stores, etc.
Then there’s the expectation that the installation of the wind turbines would attract fish and create a boom for recreational fishermen and the businesses that support them.
The first person to appear in Coen’s film was Tom Paxton, owner of the Great Bay Marina in Mystic Island in Little Egg Harbor Township. He said when the Block Island, R.I. wind farm was erected, “within six months fish started showing up.” He added his business surely could use a boost. “It seems like the seasons are changing.” And warming ocean waters are causing fish to migrate. “More southern fish are showing up here.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the people at the gathering, however, was some admitted wind farms could indeed cause some problems, or, as one woman put it, “There are going to be unintended consequences.”
One example – the transmission cables that connected the Block Island turbines to the mainland and the island were originally buried only 3 feet deep. They were exposed by erosion, posing dangers to swimmers and fishermen and causing habitat loss and disruption for some fish species. They had to be reburied 8 eight feet deep.
A second example – a woman in the audience who had lived in Spain for five years said birds had been running into the blades of a Spanish wind farm. But, she said, a sound system had been successfully deployed to keep the birds away from danger. And another person said a greater threat to birds was windows and even being hit by cars, adding that six times as many birds are killed by motorists as by wind turbines.
Opponents of the projects have repeatedly stressed that the appearance of the giant turbines would drive tourists away and reduce real estate values.
“You are going to see the offshore wind turbines,” admitted Jody Stewart, a Little Egg Harbor resident and member of the New Jersey Resource Center. It was easy to imagine opponents saying “I told you so.” But Stewart completed her thought. “Off in the distance.”
Stewart went on to say Block Island had seen tourism actually go up after its turbines were installed (indeed, one online publication said tourists descending from a tour bus quickly walked by a “postcard-perfect lighthouse,” a “148-year-old Block Island icon,” to quickly begin snapping photos of “the slender, sci-fi looking structures spinning out in the sea” and included a photo to prove it.
A member of the panel, Lisa Campanella, said that wasn’t unusual. She said wind farms, be they offshore or onshore, have become ecotourism destinations in places as disparate as Indiana, Palm Springs and Copenhagen, Denmark.
“In Copenhagen, you can climb the turbines,” said Campanella.
A question was asked. “Raise your hand if you have ever seen a large wind farm, be it on land or in overseas waters.” About two thirds of the people did so. “Who thought they were ugly?” Not a single person raised their hand.
As one speaker said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Then, of course, the issue of whales came up. Repeatedly. Numerous opponents of the Jersey Shore wind farm projects have called for a moratorium on their development and construction until studies can be conducted to see if the sonars being used to map the ocean floor were responsible for a recent rash of whale wash-ups on the beaches of New Jersey and New York.
But a speaker said any evidence that sonar and the sudden rise in whale deaths were connected was inconclusive. He said ship strikes were more than likely the culprit, especially considering ship traffic had increased considerably in the past couple of years. He also suggested a 10 miles per hour speed limit in the busy shipping lanes could help alleviate the problem.
However, he wasn’t absolutely certain ship strikes were responsible for the whales’ deaths. Although some of the whales had shown evidence of ship strikes, their wounds could have been inflicted postmortem.
Another “hands up” question was asked. How many remembered anybody talking or writing letters to the editor regarding whale deaths until a few months ago when the anti-wind farm contingent suddenly seized hold of the issue even though whales and other marine mammals had washed up or beached themselves for decades? Once again, not a single hand was raised. But one man did say about 10 whales hadn’t washed up in such a concentrated period of time before, raising a good point.
Still, many attendees seemed to agree the anti-wind farm movement was spreading a great deal of misinformation. One couldn’t believe claims had been made that wind turbines caused cancer. “They do not cause cancer!” Another said projected pictures of the wind farms stretching out into the ocean looked more like a wall than they actually would, considering they would be spaced over a mile away from each other.
All they wanted, said one, was “for people to keep an open mind” regarding the issue. There are pros and cons; everything has to be weighed and ironed out.
One thing about the meeting was certain: It was a calm and respectful gathering. When one woman said she was a representative of Save Barnegat Bay and that she was concerned about underground power cables running under the bay to the site of the now-dormant Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Forked River, the only return comment was that was indeed worth a study.
There are supporters of offshore wind farms out there; they’re just not as vocal or as sometimes angry as opponents.