ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The lone remaining offshore wind project in New Jersey with preliminary approval is likely to "adversely affect" whales and other marine mammals, but its construction, operation and eventual dismantling will not seriously harm or kill them, a federal scientific agency said.
In a biological opinion issued Monday night, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the Atlantic Shores project, to be built off the state's southern coast, is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any species of endangered whales, sea turtles, or fish.
Nor is it anticipated to destroy or adversely modify any designated critical habitat, the agency said.
Jennifer Daniels, the company's development director, called NOAA's decision "the next step forward" for the project.
It's "a testament to the five years and 40-plus environmental assessments completed to ensure we are delivering safe, reliable, renewable power in a way that prioritizes responsible ocean development," Daniels wrote.
The ruling is nearly identical to one the agency issued in April for the now-canceled Ocean Wind I and II projects, which would have been built in the same general area.
Danish wind giant Orsted pulled the plug on those two projects in October, citing inflation, supply chain problems and a failure to get as much government subsidies as it wanted for the wind farms.
NOAA said it does not anticipate that the project will seriously injure or kill any endangered whale, and added there should be no impact to any critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale, only 360 or so of which remain in the world.
With proposed protective measures in place for the project, NOAA predicted that "all effects to North Atlantic right whales will be limited to temporary behavioral disturbance."
Three federal scientific agencies — NOAA, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Marine Mammal Commission — along with New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection say there is no evidence linking offshore wind activities to whale deaths.
But opponents of offshore wind are undaunted in their efforts to kill such projects, taking heart in Orsted's decision to scrap its two projects in New Jersey.
The group Save LBI called on New Jersey environmental regulators this week to determine that Atlantic Shores does not meet the state's coastal zone management rules, one of many layers of approval the project needs before it can be built.
"These projects will intersect the migration path of the severely endangered North American right whale and threaten marine life," the group said in a statement. "Save LBI strongly believes that the damage to the marine ecology, to the human ecology (fishing, tourism, the shore communities), and to the New Jersey economy from this massive industrialization of our near ocean is unacceptable. The costs, damages, and risks far outweigh the purported benefits."
Republican elected officials have called for a moratorium on offshore wind projects, and succeeded in getting the Government Accountability Office to open an investigation into the industry.
New Jersey energy regulators approved Atlantic Shores' 1,510 megawatt project in 2021. It would generate enough electricity to power more than 700,000 homes.
Atlantic Shores is a joint partnership between Shell New Energies US LLC and EDF-RE Offshore Development, LLC.