Position:  New Jersey Audubon supports responsibly sited offshore wind energy development

Why are we focused on offshore wind power?

Climate change is undeniably one of the biggest threats to people and wildlife in New Jersey and around the world. The science of climate change is clear — as is the need to pursue cleaner energy sources, including significant investments in responsibly developed offshore wind power. We do not take this position lightly and we understand that risks remain.  Just as we are concerned about impacts to wildlife from fossil fuels, we are concerned about potential adverse impacts from renewable energy sources.  New Jersey Audubon (NJA) continues to monitor the development of wind projects off the coast of NJ and along the entire Atlantic Coastal area where birds, marine animals, bats, and other wildlife may be affected.

Importantly, offshore wind power has great potential to help the United States of America forge a clean, independent energy future—while protecting wildlife every step of the way. There are currently more than 162 offshore wind farms operating worldwide with 26 additional projects under construction according to the Global Offshore Wind Report 2020.  The first offshore turbines in U.S. waters began commercial operations in 2016.  The Block Island Wind Farm—five turbines off the coast of Rhode Island—today produce enough clean energy to power 17,000 homes and mark the start of a new energy chapter for the nation.

Offshore wind can and must be developed responsibly, in a way that minimizes potential impacts on natural resources. This means ensuring that strong requirements guide the development process at each step. NJA is committed to advocating for this approach to help sucre a future that avoids the worst climate change scenarios to protect wildlife and people.

What do we mean by “responsibly sited”?

Research by NJA was instrumental in the denial of a 2018 wind farm development proposal only 2.8 nautical miles from Atlantic City. In our view, this project would not have constituted responsible siting.  Of greatest concern was the proximity of the Nautilus project to the shore, where it had the potential to significantly impact migrating and resident birds. It was clear from published, peer-reviewed data and information generated by NJA scientists through the Avalon Seawatch that this proposal violated known, science-based recommendations to avoid building turbines in near-shore waters, inlets, and shoals to minimize risks to birds. Each fall, approximately 1 million waterbirds migrate within four miles of New Jersey’s southern coast. NJA studies along the Jersey Shore and in other areas of the eastern United States’ migratory “highway” found that many of these birds fly in great densities at heights that would put them at risk of interacting with turbines in this location.  According to research conducted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, turbines sited beyond seven miles from shore pose significantly less risk to birds and bats, and those risks decrease with increasing distance from the shoreline. As a result of this and other studies, our organization is among the strongest advocates for a responsible offshore wind program focused on siting projects in federal waters well outside the sensitive coastal zone. Wind energy projects currently slated for development in offshore NJ waters are 15 miles from the coast.

Studies conducted globally, regionally, and locally indicate that wind turbines can be sited to avoid adverse impacts to marine mammals like the endangered North Atlantic right whale, birds, bats, and other wildlife.  We must avoid siting projects in critical habitat areas, like the near-shore environment important for migrating and resident birds and threatened species like the Red Knot. While there is remaining uncertainty regarding all the potential impacts and their severity before, during operation and after decommissioning. Significant efforts are being made to better predict impacts and to implement solutions to prevent or reduce negative impacts. Research is a major factor in furthering our understanding, and NJA is at the forefront.

What are we doing to support responsible development?

New Jersey Audubon (NJA) supports environmentally responsible renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal. Because traditional fossil energy sources contribute to global climate change, habitat degradation, and pollution, NJA recognizes the importance of developing lower emission sources of energy. We are working closely with developers and policymakers to minimize or eliminate potential impacts of these developing technologies on wildlife, and natural habitats.

NJA is an active member of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Offshore Wind Public Outreach & Working Group, working alongside our conservation partners throughout the state. Our Research Department is actively engaged with the  New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and has made presentations at NYSERDA conferences on offshore wind impacts to birds and bats. NJA serves on the NY State Environmental Technical Working Group (E-TWG) as an expert organization on bird and bat research. NJA is also a member of the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative (RWSC), a newer organization established and led by four sectors – federal agencies, states, environmental nonprofit organizations, and the offshore wind industry. RWSC supports research and monitoring of wildlife and offshore wind. And we are participating in the recently funded “Wildlife and Offshore Wind (WOW)” working group coordinated by Duke University.  This group aims to provide stakeholders with advanced frameworks for environmental assessment at site-specific and regional scales.

How does New Jersey Fit into the Bigger Picture?

New Jersey continues to ensure that the nation’s boldest promise of offshore wind power is based on a firm foundation. Under the Governor’s Executive Order 8, directing the Board of Public Utilities to develop an Offshore Wind Strategic Plan, appropriate siting, and protection of natural resources throughout the development process is ensured. For New Jersey, offshore wind presents the most promising opportunity to transition to clean, renewable energy. With dense populations located near the coast in proximity to abundant wind resources, this renewable resource can provide a large portion of our energy needs. NJA supports responsibly sited wind turbine development in support of our clean energy future.