Biden administration approves largest US offshore wind farm off New Jersey coast

NEPTUNE, N.J. — The federal government has approved the largest U.S. offshore wind energy project, which officials say could power hundreds of thousands of New Jersey homes with clean energy and is expected to create over 3,000 jobs through construction and development.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced its approval of Ocean Wind 1 project's plan for construction and operations Wednesday. It is New Jersey's first offshore wind energy project and will be located about 13 nautical miles southeast of Atlantic City.

"Since Day One, the Biden-Harris administration has worked to jump-start the offshore wind industry across the country — and today’s approval for the Ocean Wind 1 project is another milestone in our efforts to create good-paying union jobs while combatting climate change and powering our nation," U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the announcement marked a "pivotal inflection point" in the state's transition toward carbon-free power.

Developed by Denmark-based power company Ørsted, the Ocean Wind 1 project will generate enough electricity that could power up to 500,000 homes with nearly 100 wind turbines off the coast of southern New Jersey.

The project's approval marks a milestone for the American offshore wind sector, as the country lags behind offshore wind farm operations in Europe and Asia. It is the third commercial-scale offshore wind energy project in the United States to be approved by the Biden administration.

Ocean Wind 1 joins two other projects, the Vineyard Wind project in Massachusetts and the South Fork Wind project in New York, both of which are now under construction. Ørsted plans to have tall structures that will support wind turbines, called monopiles, installed in 2024 and to begin commercial operations in 2025.

But offshore wind has become a source of controversy in New Jersey, pitting politicians against one another down party lines and even dividing some environmental groups over its potential marine impacts.

An aerial view of the Kentish Flats windfarm viewed show the wind turbine generators.
An aerial view of the Kentish Flats windfarm viewed show the wind turbine generators.

Ocean Wind 1 construction to begin in the fall

State and federal officials are moving ahead with approvals. Last week, the New Jersey Legislature voted to allow Ørsted to collect federal tax credits aimed at offshore wind farms. The bill is awaiting the governor's signature.

Murphy said BOEM's approval brings New Jersey a step closer toward its green energy goals.

"As we continue to cultivate burgeoning new industries while confronting the worsening climate crisis, our state’s first offshore wind project will generate thousands of good-paying union jobs and considerable environmental benefits for generations to come," he said.

Ocean Wind 1's approval includes a provision for a commercial fisheries compensation program, according to BOEM. The fund will offer reimbursement for lost revenue, a safety fund for navigational equipment, and money for lost or damaged fishing gear.

Federal officials said Ocean Wind 1 will also have to adhere to regulations designed to protect endangered and threatened marine animals, including enforcing vessel speed limits and funding various animal monitoring programs.

Construction is expected to begin in the fall as Ørsted plans on “delivering on the promise of good-paying jobs, local investment and clean energy,” said David Hardy, the company’s CEO for the Americas.

Ørsted plans to begin laying electrical transmission cable and building onshore electrical substations. Monopiles are also being welded, sandblasted and painted at EEW American Offshore Structures’ facility at the Port of Paulsboro across the Delaware River from Philadelphia International Airport.

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Project proponents and critics divided over marine impacts

Proponents of offshore wind say climate change is a dangerous threat to New Jersey's marine and coastal ecosystems as well as millions of residents. Warming oceans will lead to worse storms and more frequent flooding; ocean acidification that will kill marine animals; and disruptions in migration routes and feeding and breeding areas.

Warming ocean temperatures could also slow down critical circulation currents within the Atlantic Ocean and lead to changes in how heat moves between the equator and poles, potentially changing climates across portions of the Earth, according to NASA.

Because of these threats, proponents have said reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas through the transition to carbon-free energy is an essential part of slowing climate change and protecting critical ecosystems around the world.

But critics of offshore wind say the construction of wind farms will kill marine animals and disrupt the migrations of whales and other species. Offshore wind farms will also place thousands of acres of important fishing grounds off limits and destroy livelihoods in the fisheries business, according to critics.

Opponents of the project are not giving up their efforts to stop Ocean Wind 1 from being constructed.

Earlier this month, three New Jersey organizations — Save LBI, Defend Brigantine Beach and Protest Our Coast NJ — filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court to stop construction of the project.

Ocean Wind 1 will harm "one of the most important marine communities on the East Coast and the core of New Jersey's $47 billion tourist industry," said Bruce Afran, an attorney for the three groups.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers Brick, Barnegat and Lacey townships as well as the environment. She has worked for the Press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, or 732-557-5701.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Biden administration OKs largest US offshore wind farm in New Jersey