A panel of experts testifying to members of Congress at an in-district hearing in Wildwood, New Jersey, on Thursday warned that offshore wind projects actively promoted and subsidized by state and national Democrats could greatly interfere with radar and navigation in the Atlantic Ocean, creating a national security threat.
The panel included environmentalists, fishing industry experts, and advocates with working experience at the Department of Energy. Several noted concerns with maritime territory designated for wind farms apparently getting in the way of Pentagon and NASA operations. Another noted that the farms’ potential interference with ship radar could damage U.S. Coast Guard activities, including rescue missions. Another concern raised was the possibility of cargo ships, particularly those carrying oil or chemicals, being unable to navigate the seas and colliding, causing an environmental catastrophe.
“NASA has said that these areas interfere with all their missions out of Wallops Island; the Navy has said there is not an area in that whole lease block that does not interfere with DOD [Department of Defense] missions, but BOEM [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] is continuing ahead,” Meghan Lapp, the fisheries liaison for the Rhode Island commercial fishing company Seafreeze, told the panel of lawmakers.
“When I’ve asked them on webinars, like – the Navy said that this is a problem how can you still be leasing it?” she noted, “‘Well, we’re just going to be continuing the discussions.’”
Lapp recounted that she attempted to discuss the issue of potential radar interference with the U.S. Coast Guard in 2018 and found officials there “completely unaware of the issue.”
“Coast Guard personnel told us, ‘we don’t know what to tell you, this is literally the first we heard of this.’”
The hearing was chaired by Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), who represents the district the hearing occurred in, and attended by fellow Jersey Shore lawmaker Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA). Rep. Smith has introduced legislation in Congress to demand further scientific research into the impact on ocean ecosystems that offshore wind farms may have.
In his opening remarks, Rep. Smith, condemning the wind farm project approval process as “shoddy at best,” highlighted studies that suggest wind farms could significantly impair the use of radar to navigate the ocean.
“Vessel navigation including U.S. Navy ships, merchant ships, and search and rescue operations … their radars will be compromised,” he noted, citing a study published last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
“The report concludes wind turbine generators have significant electromagnetic reflectivity, and therefore can interfere with radar systems operating nearby,” the Academies explained in a press release on the results of the investigation into offshore wind farms last year. “The rotating blades can also create reflections in Doppler radar systems. In particular, these forms of interference could obfuscate smaller vessels and stationary objects such as buoys on radar, complicating navigation decisions and increasing the risk of collision with larger vessels.”
Rep. Smith highlighted that the study found “that wind turbine generators obfuscate the marine vessel radar for both magnetron-based and solid-state radar.”
Robert Stern, a former director of the Office of Environmental Compliance at U.S. Department of Energy who now runs the local shore advocacy group Save LBI, told the lawmakers that, in his attempts to study the proposed wind farms, he discovered that some overlap with a Department of Defense exclusion zone. LBI is short for “Long Beach Island,” an 18-mile-long barrier island that has served as a family summer retreat to the region for decades.
“The first half of the side [of one of the wind farm leases] off LBI from about nine to 14 miles out is labeled by the Navy as a DOD exclusion zone,” Stern noted. “We tried to contact DOD to find out what that means; we could not get any information, maybe it’s classified, I don’t know.”
“But right now, you have a lease area out there, half of which is classified as a DOD exclusion zone and, as Meghan [Lapp] indicates, all you get from BOEM is ‘we’re working out with DOD’ … I’d rather hear something from DOD.”
Cindy Zipf, the executive director of the environmental group Clean Ocean Action, suggested another national security concern regarding navigation: the potential for a ship carrying hazardous materials, its radar impaired, could crash.
“We have the number one port on the East Coast where we are moving a lot of cargo, but included in that cargo are oil tankers and chemical tankers,” Zipf noted, “and if one of those ships were to have a collision with a ship or with a monopole or with the transition facilities, it would be catastrophic to our coast.”
The development of offshore wind energy has become one of the most heated political topics in New Jersey, a state heavily dependent economically on fishing and beach tourism. Radical progressive Governor Phil Murphy, a Massachusetts native who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Germany, has prompted widespread condemnation in the state’s shore region for aggressively greenlighting offshore wind projects with, locals say, little input from those who will live near the wind farms. Murphy has the full backing of the administration of President Joe Biden on the issue, which prioritizes climate change as a threat to America. Rep. Smith noted in the hearing that last year’s Inflation Reduction Act “includes a 30 percent tax credit for offshore wind projects” that begin construction before January 1, 2026.
The largest projects attracting the most local outrage are the Ocean Wind I and II planned farms, developed and owned by the Danish company Ørsted.
Ørsted was notably not represented at Thursday’s hearing, despite Rep. Van Drew inviting the company to attend.
Rep. Van Drew accused the company of lying to the public, stating he had asked Ørsted officials to ” speak at least to these fishermen and to some of these other people in our community that have issues.”
“They lied and we caught them in the lie because we had them come to a meeting that we had … I asked all the fishermen and other people that were there,” Rep. Van Drew recalled, “‘Raise your hand if Ørsted has spoken to you and if they’ve helped in any way.’ About 150 people there – three people raised their hand [and] all three worked for Ørsted.”
Maddy Urbish, head of government affairs for the Ørsted Ocean Wind projects, issued a statement on Thursday defending the company’s due diligence.
“Since 2019, our Ocean Wind 1 project has been undergoing a complete and thorough federal review process as outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act and governed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,” the statement read, “including a required environmental impact assessment that invited public comment during the summer of 2022.”
The statement did not clarify why the company did not send a representative to the hearing.
The wind farm development attracted so much attention that Thursday’s hearing filled the Wildwoods Convention Center to capacity – about 400 people – and the venue was forced to turn back hundreds of people interested in attending to adhere to fire safety regulations. At one point, local reports noted, crowds outside the center chanted, “Let us in!” though the hearing was also broadcast live online and could be heard on the loudspeaker system outside.
While locals have opposed such projects for years out of fear that building massive wind turbines in the ocean will devastate the maritime ecosystem, eliminate the fishing industry, and pollute the shore, enthusiasm against the projects has been renewed by the bizarre phenomenon of an alarming increase in dead whales washing ashore on New Jersey beaches in the past year.
New Jersey authorities have documented nine dead whales washing ashore in the past three months; on an average year, the shore will see about seven dead whales a year. As of this week, the entire East Coast has documented 29 dead whales since December.
Environmental groups who support offshore wind projects and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) insist that no evidence ties offshore wind development to whale deaths. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved a third solicitation of offshore wind projects last week. A dead dolphin washed up on Leonardo Beach, on the northern Jersey Shore, on Wednesday.
“It’s sad to see yet another marine animal wash up on our beaches here in Middletown—just a few weeks ago, several dolphins were stranded on Sandy Hook,” Middletown Mayor Tony Perry told the local outlet Save Jersey on Wednesday. “Last week, the Middletown Township Committee demanded a halt to the construction of the wind farms along the New Jersey coastline after we have witnessed an unprecedented amount of whales and dolphins die along the Jersey Shore.”