Using Offshore Wind Farms to Drive New Jersey’s Green Energy
Sierra Club NJ Director Stresses Importance of “Clean Sources”
By Taylor Smith | Cover photo by Shutterstock.com
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Anjuli Ramos-Busot was continually aware of the power and influence of nature. “I was always fascinated by the natural world. How could I not be?” she says.
From hurricanes and tropical storms to changing currents, insects, and colorful plant and wildlife, nature was everywhere, and Ramos-Busot remembers that, even as a child, she had an interest in science. “I have always been a scientist at heart,” she says. “Understanding and protecting nature drives me and is who I truly am.”
Ramos-Busot first became aware of the Sierra Club while living in Puerto Rico. She earned her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico, and about 15 years ago she moved to New Jersey to obtain her M.S. in environmental chemistry with a focus on atmospheric chemistry from Rutgers University. She still lives in New Jersey and remains as passionate as ever about her mission to preserve the health and longevity of the earth.
With an overwhelming interest in “protecting our environment — understanding its chemistry and physics,” Ramos-Busot aimed to make her own scientific contributions to the field by working on policy and writing rules and regulations at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). She also began fighting and advocating for various causes at the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“Since my very early days as a conscious environmentalist, Sierra Club has always been a huge part of the environmental movement at large,” she says.
Now living in Central New Jersey with her own young family, Ramos-Busot has taken a particular interest in advocating for better air quality, which she sees as a serious statewide issue. “New Jersey is one of the most densely populated states in the country and also one of the fastest-warming,” she says.
She goes on to explain, “Living in New Jersey, I wanted to do more about our air quality, particularly in regard to methane’s contribution to climate change and its associated emissions from natural gas combustion. I volunteered for the Sierra Club prior to joining NJDEP and left my work there to join the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, but this time as the New Jersey Chapter director.”
As director, Ramos-Busot is simultaneously a leader, spokesperson, scientist, and advocate on behalf of the state. It is not a position without challenges since she must regularly champion causes in the face of critics and deniers. However, none of that seems to shake her desire for a brighter future, and the prospect of offshore wind energy is just one of these goals.
New Jersey’s Renewable Resource
Globally, the wind blows somewhere, sometime, at any time of the day. Unlike coal and oil, wind energy naturally replenishes itself with each turn of the clock, making it a renewable resource. Luckily enough, New Jersey is blessed with a substantial coastline and pre-existing wind turbines that have demonstrated just how impactful a role wind energy could play in the future health and wellness of the state and its citizens.
Regarding offshore wind energy, Ramos-Busot says, “Sourcing our energy from clean sources like wind is essential if we want to transition from a fossil fuel economy.”
Peggy Brennan-Tonetta, Ph.D., director of resource and economic development at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, agrees.
“Wind energy can be an essential part of a decarbonized future for New Jersey,” she says. “Currently, transportation remains the largest source at 39 percent of the gross statewide GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. Electricity generation follows as the next largest source at 17 percent of statewide GHG emissions. However, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Offshore Wind Market Report (2022), wind power can only continue to grow if there are policies in place to support a clean energy transition.”
Brennan-Tonetta continues, “It is difficult for alternative energy generation sources such as offshore wind to succeed in the market given the tremendous number of subsidies and policies that support fossil fuel production. Interest in offshore wind is growing as evidenced by technology improvements along with growth in the industry and number of lease areas.”
Some people might argue that a small state like New Jersey would not be able to make a global difference in the race against climate change, but Sierra Club New Jersey disagrees. “One of the biggest ways to make a difference is to vote for ‘green’ politicians,” says Ramos-Busot. “You have to look at what government officials stand for and vote accordingly. Residents can always visit our website (sierraclub.org/new-jersey) to see which candidates we endorse. Investing in an electric vehicle is also a great way to lower your carbon footprint. Alternatives include using public transportation or carpooling and ride-sharing when possible.”
According to the NJDEP, “Exposure to air toxics is a widespread problem that occurs throughout the entire state.” (Adobestock.com)
The Urgent Need for Cleaner Air
Breathing comes naturally, but as a New Jersey resident, have you ever considered the quality of the air you, or your child, are breathing?
According to the NJDEP, “Exposure to air toxics is a widespread problem that occurs throughout the entire state. These pollutants come from a variety of sources. NJDEP uses USEPA’s AirToxScreen to evaluate the types and amounts of toxics people are exposed to all over New Jersey.”
The six air toxics that the state most closely monitors are ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and lead.
Anjuli Ramos-Busot (Courtesy of Sierra Club)
Ramos-Busot points out that ground-level ozone pollutants worsen during the spring and summer with the onset of increased sunlight and hotter temperatures. In addition, heat waves in combination with stagnant, still air raise levels of particulate pollution, which negatively impacts those with respiratory or lung issues.
As stated on its website, Sierra Club New Jersey is partnering with Beyond Coal Campaign and Empower New Jersey (a coalition of 120 environmental, citizen, faith, and progressive groups in New Jersey) to combat what they view as the No. 1 threat to New Jersey’s health and well-being — pipelines and fossil fuels. There is also an effort by many environmental activists within the state to ban fracking. Contrary to popular opinion, fracking can be more harmful and disruptive than coal mining. Fracking contaminates drinking water and ground water, spilling over into wetlands, rivers, and oceans. Not only does this have a huge impact on human health, but it can be deadly to animals as well. Thankfully, in 2021 the Delaware River Basin Commission voted to ban fracking in the watershed.
How Wind Turbines Work
A wind turbine is made up of a series of sails or blades centered around a rotor, which catches the wind and translates the kinetic energy into rotational energy. In historic windmills, this process was used to grind wheat or pump water, but in a modern wind turbine, it turns a generator that creates electricity. The blades used today are inspired by airplane wings and are designed to maximize rotational energy. Typically made of fiberglass and resin layers, these turbines can withstand high winds, hurricane-like storms, and intense sunlight.
Wind power is brought ashore via cables that are connected to a power grid. Cables generally run from the ocean floor to a location closely inland. According to us.orsted.com, “To put this cable in place, a hole is drilled using a technique called horizontal directional drilling. The hole starts in a small pit behind the dunes or a beach and is then bored using a drill rig machine.” Once the pipe and cable are set in place, wind energy can safely travel from the sea to the shore.
Currently, wind energy is still in the early stages off the Atlantic coastline. As of 2022, the state has just six wind turbines located 20 miles off the shore of Sandy Hook. There is a plan to develop several new major offshore projects along the southern Jersey Shore. Danish renewable energy company Ørsted is helping New Jersey to develop its first offshore wind farm near the coastline of Atlantic City. The goal is for the wind farm to be fully operational by 2025 and to power approximately 500,000 homes.
Regarding wind energy’s importance for the state’s long-term health and economy, NJDEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette has said, “From rising seas that threaten our coastline to higher temperatures that endanger the health of our most vulnerable residents, climate change is already impacting New Jersey, and we must act to reduce its adverse effects. Through the responsible development of offshore wind facilities, we can protect our aquatic and coastal resources and the communities that rely upon them while taking bold action to address the climate crisis by reducing emissions from fossil-fuel dependent energy sources. Alongside our interagency colleagues and stakeholders, the Department of Environmental Protection will play an important role in advancing this critical work.” (dep.nj.gov/offshorewind/projects.)
In terms of a long-range goal, “the state has set a goal to produce 3,500 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind energy by 2030.” This would power 2 million homes, create 4,300 jobs,
and have a beneficial $702 million impact within the state of New Jersey, according to offshorewindnj.org.
For those who are curious or just regular beachgoers, the turbines may or may not be visible from the shoreline depending on the weather and/or cloud coverage. They are expected to be the most active and produce the most energy at the windiest times of day, which in New Jersey equates to late afternoon and early evening. Another positive is that the Atlantic region off the Jersey Shore has at minimum an average wind speed of 20 mph. As described on offshorewindnj.org, “the windiest season is winter, when offshore winds blow the hardest.”
There has been some concern over the turbines’ impact on whales, ocean health, and migratory birds. Several studies have been conducted on these subjects, and groups such as the Sierra Club say that no definite correspondence has been determined. (Shutterstock.com)
What Detractors Say
Those opposed to offshore wind farms have cited the possible eyesore of seeing wind turbines spinning away off the Atlantic City coastline. There has also been some concern over the turbines’ impact on whales, ocean health, and migratory birds. Several studies have been conducted on these subjects, and groups such as the Sierra Club say that no definite correspondence has been determined.
Ramos-Busot explains that “factors like global warming have drawn the whales’ food source closer to shore. Also, there have been many occasions of whales being struck and impacted by passing cargo ships due to increased trade. These can result in the whales being beached off the coastlines. It’s also important to note that these are not isolated incidents. Since 2016, there has been a pattern of increased whale deaths from the coast of Maine to Florida.”
Thus, while there is no definitive connection between wind turbines and whale deaths, there is a definite correlation in the changes of whales’ behavior and increased whale deaths.
No significant connection has been found between the use of wind turbines and migratory bird deaths. It is known that most birds migrate within 3 miles of the coastline. As such, New Jersey’s wind turbines will be built 12 to 15 miles off the shoreline, so as not to interrupt bird flight.
Universally, climate change has been shown to be a larger detriment to the health of bird and marine mammal populations. As global temperatures rise, so do the extinction rates. As with all ecosystems, bird health relates to “controlling pests, pollinating flowers, and spreading seeds to regenerate forests and plant life (sierraclub.org/new-jersey).” For these reasons, perhaps a greater emphasis should be placed on the impact of global warming rather than the installation and utilization of offshore wind energy.
In 2022, the Fisheries Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cited infectious disease as a possible cause of death for an increasing number of harbor and gray seals. Secondary factors like malnutrition due to ecological changes (change in forage) were cited as increasing the number of Atlantic Florida manatee deaths (fisheries.noaa.gov).
In terms of whale deaths, the NOAA has observed an unprecedented number of right whale deaths since 2017. Every year, this species of whale travels from Canada and New England to the warmer waters of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Twenty right whale deaths occurred between 2017 and 2018, many of which were due to entanglement in fishing gear and/or garbage. Collisions with fishing boats are also a deadly risk to the whales.
“Right whales often swim and rest just below the surface, and are invisible to approaching boats and ships,” said wildlife biologist Clay George of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on fisheries.noaa.gov. “It’s important for ship operators to follow vessel speed rules, and for boaters to slow down whenever possible.”
Entanglement in fixed fishing gear is tremendously hazardous for whales. State laws indicate where and how commercial traps and nets can be set. Depending on where you live in the country, seasonal boat speed restrictions are also in place during whale calving season.
To report a whale sighting, especially a whale that is injured, entangled, or dead, call the NOAA Fisheries at 877.WHALE.HELP (877.942.5343).
To keep planet Earth from warming at a rapid rate, state politicians must take a serious look at decarbonization. The term decarbonization refers to lowering greenhouse gas emissions produced by fossil fuels while switching completely to the use of zero-carbon renewable resources like wind energy, solar energy, hydropower, and geothermal. The reason that the government must be involved is that all facets of the economy and the way we live, shop, travel, and more, must align with the goal of decarbonization. This means that when you order something from Amazon, the package is delivered to your doorstep using an electric vehicle. For new building and home construction, this would likely mean electric heat pumps, solar panels, and “greener” building materials like recycled concrete.
The decisions that New Jersey makes in the coming years as to how to invest in offshore wind energy will have huge repercussions on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully, through ground level efforts and the help of elected politicians, the dream of a completely “green” Garden State can come true.
To learn how you can get involved with the Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter, visit sierraclub.org/new-jersey or follow them on Instagram @sierraclub_nj.