November 30, 2021

Oped By Kaleem Shabazz, Vice President, Atlantic City Council and President of the Atlantic City Branch of the NAACP.

As our seaside communities continue to face the threats of climate change, preserving the Jersey Shore is an absolute necessity. Those precious 141 miles of Atlantic coastline are crucial to our state’s identity and economy.

In fact, New Jersey without the Shore would be unthinkable. That’s why I’m calling on critics of offshore wind energy to think again.

They’re promoting the backward argument that proposed offshore wind projects threaten the Shore when the most significant threat comes from the devastation already occurring from climate change — destruction that clean, renewable offshore wind energy will help mitigate.

As these critics allege, the issue isn’t that the turbines might be seen from the shore. Wind turbines will look like — at most — tiny specks on the horizon.

No, the real question is this: If New Jersey doesn’t take steps to combat climate change now, won’t flooding from rising sea levels and continually increasing severe weather ends the Shore’s beauty and value as we know it?

Climate change has long been identified as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century; only the most stubborn climate-change deniers think otherwise. The pivot to clean energy and away from fossil fuels New Jersey is making is one of the most important steps we can take to protect the iconic Jersey Shore. With enthusiastic support from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and the Biden administration, we are working toward generating enough offshore wind energy to power 3.5 million homes by 2035.

“New Jersey can lead our nation in developing America’s offshore wind power, which has the potential to meet 90 percent of total US energy demand by 2050,” says a letter I signed along with more than 100 other state and local elected officials in support of offshore wind in New Jersey. “We’re at the vanguard of a new clean, renewable energy industry that will generate thousands of jobs, create prosperity for our communities, improve our health, and help protect our coastlines. Offshore wind is key to New Jersey’s future.”

Gov. Murphy’s Energy Master Plan calls for renewables to meet 100 percent of the state’s energy needs by 2050. The planned installation of Ocean Wind about 15 miles off the Shore in South New Jersey would play a key role in achieving that goal, as would similar projects being proposed.

Offshore wind has a significantly smaller environmental footprint than power generation that uses diary fossil fuels. Few other energy sources can power millions of homes with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite these proven benefits, offshore wind farms are still met with criticism related to marine life habitats, fishing, tourism, and the horizon’s aesthetics.

But sea levels are already rising in New Jersey – more than double the global average, according to a 2019 Rutgers University report. The sea level along the New Jersey coast has increased by 1.5 feet in the past century. And as the climate warms, rainfall and wind speeds are also likely to intensify during severe weather systems like those seen in Tropical Storm Elsa – a direct threat to thousands of homes, roads and other infrastructure. A US Army Corps of Engineers report says coastal communities in New Jersey face a combined average of nearly $1.6 billion a year in damage if steps are not taken to reduce the impact of climate change. Flood insurance rates could increase, as well as deductibles.

Faced with these threatening prospects, the aesthetic issues around wind turbines that one might see on the clearest of days shrink in comparison. Most offshore wind farms worldwide are installed up to 20 miles from the shoreline. A March 2021 visual impact assessment from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management demonstrates just how little ocean views will be affected at different points of the day and in varying weather conditions.

Additionally, experience in Europe and the first US offshore wind farm — off Block Island, Rhode Island — proves that recreational and commercial fishing can flourish near wind turbines. The submerged sections of turbines serve as artificial reefs for marine life and provide a brand-new habitat. Without clean energy such as that generated by offshore wind, climate change would go unchecked. Rising temperatures and acidification of the planet’s oceans would only continue to destroy marine life and its breeding grounds.

The Block Island Wind Farm has also emerged as a popular fishing spot, with a 2019 University of Rhode Island study finding that many recreational anglers believe the submerged bases of the turbines have improved fishing. There seem to not only be more fish but more species. One participant in the survey told researchers that underwater support structures, which have four legs with lattice-like supports, were rife with mussels and crustaceans and attracting scup, mahi-mahi and striped bass.

Creating livable marine life habitats is not the only benefit of the Block Island Wind Farm. The same 2019 study found an increase in tourism, thanks to interest in the new structures. Boaters swing by the area to take an up-close look and tourists pay for guided tours of the wind farm to learn more about its purpose and how the structures operate.

The bottom line is that the arguments against offshore wind just don’t hold water. If we want to preserve the Jersey Shore for future generations, offshore wind energy is a must.