Op-Ed: Offshore wind supports NJ coastal economies

And ‘it is abundantly clear that wind farms do not have a negative impact on tourism’
Kris Ohleth

I have found great joy in devoting the past 15 years of my professional life to developing offshore-wind energy projects. Working in a field that brings clean energy, increases environmental progress, improves public health  and boosts economic opportunity makes me proud to do what I do every day.

Thankfully, the majority of New Jersey residents agree with me, as poll after poll shows that offshore wind is very popular among New Jerseyans. With so many benefits, it is not surprising that a large majority of residents support offshore wind for the Garden State.

However, there is a vocal minority of part-time Jersey Shore residents who continue to make unfounded claims about offshore wind. They claim that it will harm the tourism economy in the Shore towns where they spend the summer. In response, I thought some of the clear facts and data would shed further light on the reality of offshore wind and tourism both domestically and abroad.

Let’s start off the coast of Rhode Island, a significant recreational destination. Built in 2016, the Block Island Wind Farm is the only offshore-wind project that is visible from shore in the United States. A study published by the University of Rhode Island confirmed that tourism on Block Island — where the turbines are easily within view — actually increased the year after the wind farm was built. In fact, there was, on average, a 19% increase in occupancy rates upon completion of the wind farm.

A different study published by the University of Delaware in 2020 concluded that not only would beachgoers be indifferent to offshore wind farms that are more than five miles from shore, but also tourists may be interested enough to visit them. That means offshore-wind farms in New Jersey and elsewhere could potentially generate millions of “curiosity trips,” and the sightseeing revenue that comes with them.

Other benefits

There are other demonstrated benefits. The Block Island Wind Farm has already become a focal point for the region’s recreational fishing community because it provides habitat for the base of the food web that attracts larger fish sought by locals and vacationers alike.

Overseas, where offshore-wind projects have been in operation since 1991, we see other case studies of wind farms adding to the tourist economies in coastal communities. For example, the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm in the United Kingdom comprises 116 turbines. Built in 2017, it is located just eight miles from the coast along the popular tourist town of Brighton. According to data from the British Tourist Authority, overnight visits to Brighton increased from 604,000 in 2017 to 615,000 in 2018, and then up again to 647,000 in 2019.

That is just some of the information we have about offshore wind and tourism. In most cases, it is abundantly clear that wind farms do not have a negative impact on tourism.

What clearly does increase with offshore-wind development is the opportunity for coastal economies to grow beyond the confinements of a seasonal hospitality industry. These sustainability projects bring an entirely new employment sector to the shore, offering coastal residents the chance to find a career in their hometowns. This would mean year-round work at the Jersey Shore in a growing field that will repower our nation with clean energy and more well-paying jobs.

Furthermore, coastal communities face the brunt of impacts from climate change. Sea-level rise is taking its toll. This is not only seen during storms anymore, but also as “sunny day flooding” continues to increasingly plague Shore towns. Offshore wind is the only renewable-energy resource that is ready to be deployed at a large enough scale to provide baseload and reliable power that can replace the electricity generation sources like coal and nuclear power that continue to be lost to a lack of economic competitiveness in New Jersey.

Offshore wind is being driven at the national level in a strong and bipartisan way, a trend started over a decade ago with the George W. Bush administration. Each administration since — both Republican and Democratic — helped advance this industry. The Biden administration is set to take our nation’s offshore-wind program to the next level, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create sustainable energy infrastructure in our state. We cannot let this moment pass. Standing with the majority who want to do right by the environment and our economy makes me prouder than ever to be from the great state of New Jersey. I hope you will stand with us too.