Oped by Caren Fitzpatrick, of Linwood, an Atlantic County Commissioner

July 3, 2021

As we gear up to return to post pandemic life, every day I recognize that we’re living inside a climate emergency. While the COVID-19 tragedy saw too many of our loved ones, friends and neighbors lose their lives, and still wraps its reminders around us, let us not forget the societal divisions it highlighted. Environmental justice must be eradicated, along with systemic racism and income disparities.

Right now, I’ve never been so anxious and hopeful at the same time. I’m anxious, because without immediate action, much of New Jersey’s coastline will be lost under a projected 8 feet of sea-level rise by the end of the century, with it the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of our fellow neighbors. Every time storms ride on-top of elevated sea level rise and elevated tides it floods. Routine flooding near Atlantic City has increased from less than once a year between 1950 and 1960 to about eight times a year between 2007 and 2019. It’s gotten so bad we have to cancel school after the slightest storm with “flood days.”

I’m hopeful, because Governor Murphy committed to increase the state’s offshore wind capacity to 7,500 MW by 2035 to meet his mandate to generate half our electricity from renewable sources. He’s made development of offshore-wind farms a top priority. That’s exciting, especially since we have the country’s largest permitted project moving forward just 16 miles off Atlantic City. Ocean Wind will produce 1,100-megawatts when operational and spur thousands of highly skilled jobs. It will reduce carbon emissions by 2.2 million tons annually—the equivalent of taking 400,000 cars off the road—and provide a reliable and scalable source of energy, immune to supply shortages and price shocks. 

The time has come to rebuild with more awareness and dedication to truth and justice. We’ll need good paying jobs, and new training opportunities to emerge from the pandemic darkness. The clean energy economy offers a pathway. While offshore wind is not the solution to all that we need to change, it will significantly contribute towards the state’s goal of transitioning to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, and sharply reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

The average wind farm being considered for New Jersey is projected to create 4,300 skilled, well-paying jobs and add $702 million to the economy. A wide majority of New Jersey voters, 82 percent favor expanding wind energy here, and nearly three-quarters, 73 percent, believe that offshore wind will impact our environment in a positive way. Businesses, community groups, labor unions, and environmental groups all back responsible offshore wind development. The Business Network for Offshore Wind includes more than 50 partners from local businesses, frontline community groups, labor unions, to environmental groups.

According to the Workforce Development Institute, 74 different occupations are needed to build an offshore wind farm. The career opportunities range from data scientists, welders, accountants, safety technicians all the way up to marine biologists, engineers, and will generate thousands of additional jobs in construction, manufacturing, turbine demonstration, and transmission line projects. When the build-out happens, we must ensure the economic benefits are shared equitably with communities of color.

Industry advocates are establishing a supply chain to support the construction and operation of New Jersey’s wind turbines, as well as projects being developed across the entire eastern seaboard. Some 490 companies have joined the registry established by the Business Network for Offshore Wind and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, an effort to help smaller local suppliers, like boating operators, connect with the developers and other firms.

Offshore wind platforms off Rhode Island have created new fishing grounds, as reefs grow on the structures. Turbines might even act as buffer zones for storms, protecting our shore and inland communities from bad weather.

The best news is that these technological marvels could supply the state with 92 percent of all our electricity needs. With solar and land wind power we could eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels to meet electricity demand. Health outcomes for everyone will improve, especially in frontline communities, as pollution decreases from fossil fuel power generation.

The Atlantic seaboard has the potential to produce almost 4,600 TWh of electricity each year, more than four times as much power as these states used in 2019, and twice as much as they would use in 2050—if the country underwent maximal electrification, based on estimates from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That’s important, as the push to transition to electric vehicles will add electricity demands to our capacity.

In order to heed the International Energy Agency report’s warning, that governments must stop approving new oil and gas production in order to avert the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, we need multiple renewable energy sources powering our grid.Part of the answer is, as Bob Dylan might say, “blowing in the wind.”