A furious lobbying effort by offshore wind opponents failed to sway New Jersey state lawmakers, who voted June 30 to let wind developer Ørsted use federal tax credits to boost financing its Ocean Wind 1 project.
The vote along largely partisan lines lined up Democratic supporters, saying New Jersey stands to gain environmental and economic benefits from what would be its first utility-scale offshore wind project.
Republican legislators said Ocean Wind 1 and other planned projects imperil the state’s coastal tourism economy and fishing industries. That debate has been inflamed for months by an unusually high number of whale strandings on New Jersey beaches during the winter. Wind power opponents argued offshore vessels surveying wind lease sites could have been a factor, while federal officials insist there is no evidence to link them.
“They’re killing these whales they’re killing these dolphins,” said state Assemblyman Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon County.
An intensive social media, telephone and email effort by Ocean Wind opponents pressured legislators, as lawmakers scrambled this week to wrap up New Jersey’s new $54.3 billion budget before July 1.
“Everyone’s emails have been clogged the last few days,” said Assemblyman Gerry Schafernberger, R-Monmouth County.
Organized by local activists in Jersey Shore beach communities, the opposition effort reached out to part-time summer residents who live inland, putting more pressure on legislators in suburban and rural districts.
But offshore wind supporters carried the day.
With smoke from wildfires in Canada’s forests drifting over the East Coast, “we know that New Jersey is no longer a stranger to the effects of climate change,” said Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Burlington, the Democratic majority leader in the lower house and a chief sponsor of the tax credit measure.
“We have to look at the reality of how we get this project finished to the benefit of New Jersey,” said Greenwald during the Friday debate in the Trenton Statehouse.
Ørsted’s original bid to New Jersey’s offshore wind power solicitation four years ago has come under pressure after the covid pandemic economic pressures, global effects on trade from the war in Ukraine and inflations, Greenwald argued.
The Biden administration’s boost of federal income tax credits for renewable energy projects offers a “once in a generation environmental and economic opportunity” for keeping Ocean Wind 1 viable, he said.
The merged state Assembly and Senate bills passed late Friday afternoon include sending $200 million into an escrow account to develop the facility at Paulsboro, N.J., on the Delaware River that builds monopile foundation components for turbines.
“Much of the opposition to this bill is opposition to offshore wind energy in general,” said Greenwald.
Greenwald said the “passback” of federal tax subsidy to Ørsted would divert about $2.40 a year to utility customer to the company. Without the change, Ocean Wind 1 may not be built, he said.
“This is a a bailout to a foreign company on the back of ratepayers,” said Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn, R-Monmouth, who objected that cost effects are based on Ørsted projections. “This bill does not benefit New Jersey taxpayers.”
Efforts from local activist groups aimed to peel away Democratic legislators’ support for Gov. Phil Murphy’s ambitious offshore wind power plans. In the end, they could only dent the Statehouse votes from the Democratic majority.
The lower Assembly house voted 43 to 32 to accept the Ørsted tax credit deal, followed a few hours later on Friday by state senators voting 21 to 14 in favor as they hurried to wrap up loose ends for the state’s $54.3 million budget.