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Ocean City fights offshore wind cable planned to run under beach, through town

The plan to run an electric power transmission cable from 98 offshore wind turbines to land in Ocean City has drawn local opposition, but also supporters.

FILE- The five turbines of America's first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Orsted, stand off the coast of Block Island, R.I. The company plans to run a power cable from a proposed windfarm off the New Jersey coast under 35th Street beach in Ocean City.  The cable would run under city streets, through a portion of bay, before connecting with a substation.  City officials and some residents oppose the project, while others support it.
FILE- The five turbines of America's first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Orsted, stand off the coast of Block Island, R.I. The company plans to run a power cable from a proposed windfarm off the New Jersey coast under 35th Street beach in Ocean City. The cable would run under city streets, through a portion of bay, before connecting with a substation. City officials and some residents oppose the project, while others support it.Read moreDavid Goldman / AP

Miles of power cables already snake through Ocean City to power its 5,000 households and light its famed boardwalk.

But the plan to run one cable under the beach to bring electricity generated by 98 offshore wind turbines onshore has sparked controversy. City and Cape May County officials, as well as other communities and homeowners, have lined up against it; other homeowners, environmental groups, and unions support it.

Emotions are high enough that a virtual public hearing this week on running the cable under public property drew 244 viewers and dozens of commenters.

The global wind-power company Ørsted has state approvals to build the utility-scale Ocean Wind 1 wind farm and run one of two electric power transmission cables from it under the beach at 35th Street, across the city, and along the bay north of Roosevelt Boulevard Bridge. The line would ultimately connect to a substation at the former B.L. England coal-fired plant on the Great Egg Harbor River in Upper Township, Cape May County.

The cable would run under four parcels totaling little more than a half acre of city-owned property for which the company would pay $200,000 for the “diversion” of public land, which is 13 times its appraised value. A public hearing was required because the land, including the beach, is considered part of the state’s Green Acres program aimed at protecting open space.

The fight in Ocean City highlights a critical issue facing the nascent offshore wind industry: How to get all the power expected to be generated by hundreds of turbines to land in a 20th-century system built for fossil fuel.

Why are people opposed?

Doug Bergen, a spokesperson for the city, said during Monday night’s meeting that the cable would “disrupt Ocean City’s beach and wetlands” and that the project was pushed through by the state and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) without city input.

“The city has objected to the usurpation of the city’s rights … to initiate any application which could result in diversion of lands on Ocean City’s recreation and open space inventory,” Bergen said. “Ocean City objects to Ocean Wind’s proposed diversions of Ocean City’s beach and wetlands on this procedural basis.”

City officials say it was too early for the BPU to have approved the cable because federal and state officials haven’t finished reviewing the wind farm’s potential environmental impact. Cape May County officials say Ørsted has not disclosed how it evaluated other possible routes for the cable, and suggested the company chose the cheapest method rather than an all-water route. Nine other local towns also oppose the cable.

The proposal has met resistance from some residents who not only object to the cable but to the 850-foot-high turbines they believe will be visible from shore. Some just want the project moved farther out to sea.

» READ MORE: Some worry N.J. offshore wind project will affect views, fishing, and tourism

Suzanne Hornick, of Protect Our Coast-NJ, said her group doesn’t want the wind farm “in any way, shape, or form.”

Hornick called the virtual public meeting a “farce” because Ørsted had already received approval for the cable. New Jersey changed a law to allow the BPU to approve such projects on public land. The administration says offshore wind is imperative to address sea-level rise along the coast.

Hornick said that there hadn’t been sufficient public notice about Monday night’s meeting and that the project would harm fishing and wildlife.

» READ MORE: N.J. fishing groups worry offshore wind will adversely affect their industry: ‘This is our farmland’

Who’s for the project?

Several residents, such as Alice Andrews, spoke in favor of the project largely for environmental reasons. Her family has owned an Ocean City home for a century.

“We know that the country needs energy from many new sources to reduce the use of gas and oil and we need to save our shore from the dangers of sea-level rise and excessive warming,” Andrews said. “And these override any aesthetic or other objections. There’s an urgency to this. … So there’s no reason not to proceed. And for the sake of everyone’s children and grandchildren there should be no delay.”

Resident Mary Fleming also supported the wind farm.

“Yes, it is an imperfect plan and you probably will see them on a clear day,” Fleming said, referring to the turbines. “But the need to replace fossil fuels is urgent and time is running out. The prospect of windmills on the horizon is not the greatest problem facing Ocean City. The rising tide and our drowning wetlands are.”

Chris Cole, business agent for Heavy Highway Laborers Local 172, supported the project, saying it means jobs.

Though some fishing groups have objected to the wind farm, several charter boat operators spoke in favor of it.

And William Healey, an adviser with the nonprofit, nonpartisan New Jersey Alliance for Action, called the project “a vital step in the creation of a new industry for the state.” He said, “New Jersey has the opportunity to be a leader and to supply offshore wind farms up and down the United States East Coast.”

What does the project involve?

Ørsted owns 75% of Ocean Wind 1, and Public Service Enterprise Group, parent company of PSE&G — the state’s largest power company — owns 25%. The turbine array would span an area from 15 to 27 miles starting southeast of the Atlantic City coast and would generate 1,100 megawatts of energy, enough to power more than 500,000 homes.

Ocean Wind 1 is the first of several approved offshore wind projects designed to meet Gov. Phil Murphy’s goal of producing 11,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2040. Murphy has a long-term goal of achieving 100% “green-energy” by 2050, which would include a mix of power sources including nuclear.

The BPU has approved two other wind projects: a 1,510 megawatt wind farm by EDF/Shell called Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, and a 1,148-megawatt wind farm also by Ørsted and known as Ocean Wind 2. Another project is up for approval in 2023.

To connect to the planned B.L. England substation, Ørsted plans to run a cable 50 feet under the beach around 35th Street. Crews would feed the 8-inch-diameter, 275-kilovolt cable through using horizontal drilling. Access to the beach and parking would be limited during construction, which would take place in the offseason. The public will have access to the beach after construction, and the beach itself will be undisturbed, Ørsted said.

The cable that runs on land would use existing utility paths under road sides. In all, Ørsted will run about a mile of cable through Ocean City with the ultimate goal of connecting to the regional grid under PJM Interconnection, a regional organization that coordinates electricity across 13 states and Washington, D.C.

For the bayside route, Ørsted now plans to use horizontal drilling through wetlands owned by the Green Acres preservation program, but it may consider another route.

A second cable from Ocean Wind 1 would connect at the former Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Lacey Township, Ocean County.

Ørsted responds

Maddy Urbish, head of government affairs and policy for Ørsted, said in an interview that construction should begin by the end of 2023 depending on whether the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and state Department of Environmental Protection approve needed permits, including a draft of an environmental-impact statement submitted over the summer. First power would be generated in early 2024.

Residents noted the draft mentions possible impacts on migrating endangered North Atlantic right whales. Urbish said Ørsted will have designated spotters to halt construction for hours to allow whales to pass. Last month, federal officials announced a strategy to protect the whales while offshore wind energy develops.

On questions about an all-water route, Urbish said regulating agencies expressed concerns about complexity and environmental impacts, while most of the land route, she said, could be run through existing utility paths.

Public comment is being accepted through Nov. 28 via email at with “Proposed Diversion” in the subject line. Comments to the state should be e-mailed to with “Ocean Wind 1″ in the subject line.