Distributive policy

Whale policy hints at today’s offshore wind impact study | Editorial

Today, the federal government will take one of the most anticipated steps in the development of large offshore wind energy projects, by releasing its first draft of what the environmental effects will be.

The report from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will focus on Ørsted North America’s Ocean Wind 1 wind energy project, planned for federal waters about 15 miles off Atlantic City. The draft environmental impact statement, the first for a major offshore wind project in the United States, will be published today in the Federal Register and available online. Press coverage will follow.

Proponents, skeptics and haters of the project of up to 98 wind turbines and three offshore substations have been anxiously awaiting the environmental analysis for months.

We believe there are hints of what it will contain in the federal policies and approaches outlined this spring to address a great offshore wind challenge – accommodating the North Atlantic right whale, one of the great whales most endangered in the world.

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BOEM said it will work with other federal agencies on a plan to help right whales recover while responsibly developing offshore wind energy. This includes monitoring the distribution and movements of whales and other marine mammals, and putting in place mitigation measures, where necessary, to reduce the impact on whales.

Danielle Brown, a whale scientist at Rutgers University, said not enough is known about whales and their use of the ocean area earmarked for wind turbines. “Offshore wind construction is approaching very quickly, but it looks like they’re asking the right questions, and they’re putting as much effort and funding as possible into answering the questions,” she told NJ Spotlight.

The total global population of right whales is about 330, and some of them migrate through waters between New Jersey and New York from November to April, Brown said. Since their slow reproductive rate produced only 13 calves in the last breeding season, conservation groups consider the whales to be at extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.

Ørsted’s efforts to protect the North Atlantic right whale include $6 million for research so far, in collaboration with Rutgers and other institutions. Data will be collected by sound buoys, thermal cameras and an offshore glider.

With today’s release of the draft impact statement, a 45-day comment period will begin, ending August 8. During this time, BOEM will hold three virtual public meetings and accept comments through them. The comments will be used in the preparation of a final environmental impact statement, and this will inform the bureau’s decision whether or not to approve the Ørsted project.

Amanda Lefton, Director of the Office of Ocean Energy, said, “BOEM remains committed to an environmental review process that establishes a strong foundation for offshore wind projects in the United States while promoting co-use of the oceans and avoiding or reducing potential conflicts”.

At least 15 more projects to build and operate commercial offshore wind facilities are expected to be reviewed by BOEM by 2025. They have the potential to deliver more than 22 gigawatts of clean energy to the nation, enough to power around 10 million homes.

We expect today’s draft assessment to begin to show how the exploitation of this enormous renewable energy resource will continue.