January 2, 2023 

Interview by Hank Greenberg

When America’s political tides changed in 2016, Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick reflected on what the future would hold. She never expected to run for elected office, but Trump’s election made her feel a need to be more politically active.

“This is my first political job,” said Fitzpatrick. “I was compelled to run after the 2016 election … Donald Trump devastated good people and family businesses here in Atlantic County by not paying his bills. His ‘I’ll see you in court’ routine cost people. He killed family businesses that had been in business for decades. When the Republican Party here supported him right out of the gate, I was astounded. I had to do something.”

That proactive attitude drives her to bring justice for people who need a voice. Specifically, Fitzpatrick thinks about future generations who cannot vote yet or represent themselves in government. She is determined to ensure that there is a livable planet for future generations to prosper. 

“At work, my grandchildren are on my mind all the time,” said Fitzpatrick. “What kind of world are we leaving them? I’ve had people say to me ‘well, my children are going to take care of that.’ I find that attitude irresponsible and cold. The world is a community. We have to think about the people around us.” 

Atlantic City, New Jersey Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick’s official photograph

Fitzpatrick lives by these sentiments. 

After getting elected, Fitzpatrick focused on combating the climate crisis. She is helping create a home for the offshore wind energy industry in Atlantic County. Fitzpatrick believes offshore wind will be fundamental in order to limit the disastrous effects of climate change. 

In the past ten years, Atlantic County has dealt with increasingly severe weather. Children now miss school due to “flood days.” With every high tide the city floods, affecting environmental justice communities the most. Storms shut down the city and the hardships are becoming worse. Fitzpatrick sees offshore wind energy as a big part of the solution to these problems.

Photo: Atlantic City, New Jersey Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick’s official

“Offshore wind is the answer to so many of our issues here in southern New Jersey,” said Fitzpatrick. 

Fitzpatrick detailed how a burgeoning wind energy industry would touch all aspects of Southern New Jersey’s economy. From training in higher education to growing union jobs, the prospect of the offshore wind industry promises to bring sustainable financial opportunities. 

“The factory in Penns Grove where the turbines are going to be built is uniquely suitable because there are no impediments to get the turbines to the ocean. That’s very unusual and makes this area a perfect candidate for wind,” explained Fitzpatrick. “Atlantic Cape Community College and Rowan University have specific programs to train workers for this industry. Offshore wind is going to bring high-paying union jobs which we so desperately need.”

These wind turbines were manufactured  by Orsted, a major offshore wind company involved in New Jersey’s wind projects. Danish offshore wind farm developer Orsted will develop and operate the offshore wind farm, Ocean Wind off the coast of Atlantic City, with support from Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), a diversified energy company based in New Jersey. Photo courtesy Orsted.

Critics say the wind industry will drive tourism away from Atlantic City. Fitzpatrick responds to them by highlighting the cooperation between the existing businesses and the efforts to establish offshore wind.

“Our businesses in Atlantic City have already invested a lot in growing offshore wind,” asserted Fitzpatrick. “The hotels and casinos are not leaving. They are making changes and improvements to handle changes in the environment.”

In fact, she is looking forward to a more diversified economy – for the sustainability of Atlantic County. 

“We cannot continue to primarily be a tourist destination,” said Fitzpatrick. “We love our tourism. That’s what we’ve been doing for two hundred years. We want everyone to come to Atlantic City. Still, we need more to support the families who live here. Offshore wind is the way to do it.”

Fitzpatrick’s second term will end in 2023. She sees that her efforts to bring the wind energy industry to Atlantic County have started to materialize, but there is still a lot more to accomplish in the next year. 

“I want the questions around wind energy to be put to rest,” Fitzpatrick said. “I want the industry to move forward and create these jobs that they’ve been talking about for years. I want to see my own county move further towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.”

With Governor Phil Murphy having increased the state’s offshore wind goal to 11 gigawatts – the largest on the east coast, Fitzpatrick feels confident that New Jersey will eventually reach the future she envisions. 

“Governor [Phil] Murphy created lofty goals for New Jersey’s wind industry,” reminded Fitzpatrick. “We are on target to meet his goals. We will have clean energy in the state of New Jersey by 2050. That’s only twenty-five years from now.” 

Fitzpatrick’s political future after 2023 is uncertain. Yet, her commitment to the environment is unwavering.

“I have to see how a few things work out with my family,” she said. “In any case, I will not leave the environment behind. I will always always be involved. I will advocate for clean energy and a new way of life.”