Upper hears of local impact from wind power line plans

UPPER TOWNSHIP – About 60 people gathered Monday evening at the Marmora Volunteer Fire Company to hear details on the local impact of the proposed Ocean Wind 1 wind energy project.

Plans call for some of the electricity generated by the wind turbines to enter the power grid at the former BL England power plant in the Beesleys Point section of the township.

The proposal has been a hot topic, with many in the area distrustful of the company and worried about the impact of about 98 huge turbines off the beach, with the closest set to be about 15 miles offshore.

In public hearings in Ocean City, opponents and supporters of the plan have squared off at multiple meetings.

The Monday event was held to give Upper Township neighbors a chance to better understand the impact to their community.

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“We wanted people to be able to ask how the power line project would impact their ride to work. We wanted people to see what this was going to look like from their house,” said Kim Hayes, a member of the Upper Township Committee, who attended the event.

Representatives of PSEG and Ørsted, the principals of the Ocean Wind 1 project, spoke with residents about the potential local impact while the lines were being put in place and beyond. There were tables set in a horseshoe in the center of the hall, with the firefighters’ turnout gear lined up along the wall.

On the tables, large photos and maps outlined the route of the power lines and offered a computer generated view of the new substation proposed for the former BL England site, set on several acres of the sprawling site, well back from the road.

The proposed new substation would include two buildings, on a site where there was once a massive pile of coal delivered by train to power the former generators. The buildings will be about 35 feet tall, surrounded by 80-foot lightning masts, according to Tom Patterson with Ocean Wind, one of the presenters at the event.

As proposed, and as planned at the meeting, the lines will run under the beach in Ocean City at 35th Street, then be run underground across the island. Horizontal drilling will be used to bring the lines under the beach and under the channel separating Ocean City from Upper Township near the 34th Street Bridge, under the plans offered Monday and discussed at other meetings.

The lines will run along Roosevelt Boulevard to North Shore Road, where they will continue from the Marmora section of the township to the Beesleys Point section and enter the former power plant property.

According to Jason Kalwa, also at the event representing Ocean Wind, the lines would be buried underground along the roadways, similar to those used for other utilities along the same routes. Representatives said the amount of kilowatts in the lines would be similar to those in transmission lines elsewhere in the county.

The meeting remained quiet, with staff members speaking to small groups of residents.

Bruce Holcombe, an Upper Township resident, said it seemed like the gathering was a way to tell residents what was going to happen, rather than to get their input on what they think should happen.

“I’m not opposed to it. We have to do something about climate change,” he said.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has ambitious goals for offshore winds, offering it as a way to create jobs and a new industry in the state, but primarily as a way to reduce fossil fuel consumption and reduce carbon emissions linked to a warming planet.

But some at the event were skeptical.

Roseanne Serowatka of Ocean City stood outside the event, handing out pamphlets from the Protect Our Coasts NJ organization, critical of the proposal. The pamphlet suggests the plans are dangerous to marine life and will hurt the local tourism and fishing economy.

Bob Rush agreed. He lives in Upper Township and has operated a fishing vessel out of Sea Isle City for decades. He believes there could be unexpected impact from the rapid development of offshore wind farms.

It’s a science experiment. They have no clue what this is going to do to the fishing industry,” he said.

His daughter, Chelsea Headley, is also skeptical. She cited concerns for the electric and magnetic fields generated by the lines.

There is no definitive evidence of health issues related to EMFs, which are associated with the use of electrical power, including from substations, household appliances, cell phones and most other devices. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reports that some forms of EMFs, such as X-rays and sunlight, can cause physical damage, but non-ionizing radiation like those from power lines and other sources are generally considered harmless.

Ocean Wind staff members say that because the proposed lines will be underground and shielded, there will be no issue with EMFs. But Headley seemed unconvinced.

She also said the BL England plant contributed to the township, through the energy receipts tax that helps reduce taxes in Upper Township.

Even with that plant closed, the township still receives energy receipt payments, which makes up a significant portion of the local budget. That number had been reduced years ago, but the township still takes in more than $6 million a year, a big impact on an annual budget of $15.4 million.

“Our lawyers say that isn’t going to go away,” Hayes said on Monday of the funds. Still, part of the reason Upper Township has backed the wind power proposal while other communities balked is to ensure those funds continue to flow. A loss of that money would hit township taxpayers hard, she said.

The coal and diesel powered generating station closed in 2019, and the site has been named an area in need or redevelopment. The new owners, Beesley’s Point Development Group LLC, plan to develop the site. Township officials have publicly discussed the potential for a waterfront hotel and restaurant, along with a marina and other projects.

Ocean Wind plans to buy the site for the substation from the LLC. Representatives of the wind power company said on Monday that discussions on that purchase are still in progress. An existing substation, used by the former plant, will be replaced by the new one to bring the power into the electricity grid.

The proposed route of the power lines still awaits approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Both Ocean City and Cape May County have pushed back against the proposed power line route, while the Upper Township Committee has approved needed variances to allow the lines to pass.

At previous open houses and public meetings, including a public hearing on the proposed route for the power line held this month, several Ocean City residents have spoken against the proposal, and criticized offshore wind.

The Danish energy company Ørsted owns 75% of Ocean Wind 1, with PSE&G holding a 25% share.

The wind farm area is 15 to 27 miles off the coast of southern New Jersey, where up to 98 turbines are proposed. Ocean Wind 2 is already proposed, with additional wind farms in the works along the coast and throughout the Northeast.

Murphy recently set a new goal for offshore power calling for 11,000 megawatts to be generated by offshore wind by 2040.

There was no main speaker on Monday, and no chance for residents to make comments that would be heard by all of the participants. But several staff members remained on hand and answered questions for close to two hours.

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