The state last week quietly adopted new rules governing wind turbines and solar projects in coastal areas and waters, an issue that has deepened a divide between New Jersey’s leading environmental groups over the state’s aggressive efforts to promote renewable energy.
The rules aim to spur land-based renewable energy projects in areas governed by coastal regulations. They were praised by wildlife advocates for protecting sensitive natural resources but criticized by clean energy advocates for severely curtailing the development of new solar and wind projects along the coast.
First proposed by the Corzine administration, the rules will preclude wind farms from being developed in Delaware Bay and parts of the Delaware Bayshore, an internationally recognized habitat for migratory shorebirds, as well as up to 400 square miles of coastal areas.
“Prior to these rules renewable energy and wildlife advocates were pitted against one another in what should have been a win-win situation,” said Eric Stiles, Chief Operating Officer, NJ Audubon. “We commend the Christie administration for following the science. The myth that in order to have renewable energy we had to sacrifice wildlife has been dispelled by the Christie administration.”
But other environmentalists lambasted the new rules, arguing they will impede developing clean energy projects up and down the coast. “It shouldn’t be easier to put a casino on a pier than a windmill, but that is the case under these rules," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The adoption of the rules comes at a time when the Christie administration is weighing changes in an energy master plan adopted by the prior administration that sets very aggressive goals for increasing New Jersey’s reliance on cleaner but currently more expensive forms of energy, such as solar and wind power. By 2020, New Jersey hopes to have 30 percent of its electricity produced by renewable energy.
In some cases, the new rules would make it easier to develop solar and wind installations, streamlining the permitting process for small-scale projects that will have minimal impact on coastal or waterfront areas.
The rules would preclude building offshore wind farms in state waters, or within three miles of the shore, with one exception. A pilot offshore wind farm proposed by Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey, LLC, would be allowed to proceed to gather more information about the affect of such projects on marine and bird life.
The rules would not affect three other large-scale offshore wind projects, which have leases with the federal government to build wind farms between 10 to 16 miles off the coast. Those projects are waiting for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to draft regulations on how offshore renewable energy credits would be given to wind farms.
For some clean energy advocates, however, the rules will significantly hinder New Jersey’s wind energy potential and related job growth, particularly by precluding large areas from siting large-scale wind farms.
“They go way too far,’’ said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey, who questioned why Delaware Bay was taken off the table for offshore wind projects. “There’s good wind potential in the bay and there’s many things along the coast that kill far more birds than wind turbines, such as buildings and power lines.’’
Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, defended precluding Delaware Bay from having wind farms, noting it is a globally recognized area for migratory shorebirds, such as the red knot, which stops there each spring en route from South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. “The state has done a lot of work to protect habitat there for red knots and other shorebirds,’’ Dillingham said.
Tittel disputed that argument. “These rules don’t protect endangered species and the environment; they do just the opposite. The biggest threat to endangered species is climate change and sea level rise. These rules will block important clean energy sources that will help fight climate change and protect New Jersey’s environment,’’ he said.
DEP officials chose not to comment for the story.