Anti-wind rhetoric dominates GOP beach-side ‘hearing’

By Heather Richards | 01/22/2024 06:30 AM EST

Republicans this weekend cheered offshore wind’s troubles and urged people to rise in opposition.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.).

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) on Capitol Hill. During a session on offshore wind this weekend, Van Drew urged people to use the courts to stop projects. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A New Jersey Republican kicked off an anti-offshore-wind meeting on the Maryland coast Saturday by taking credit for the demise of two proposed offshore wind farms.

Convened by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and billed as a hearing even though it didn’t have official committee sanction, the gathering in Ocean City, Maryland, characterized the nascent industry as a blow to U.S. security, as well as a threat to maritime safety, horseshoe crabs, fishing grounds and tourism.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) — who helped lead a similar session last year in his state — told the crowd that opposition to offshore wind was gaining power and had brought down two proposed wind farms off the Jersey Shore. Developer Ørsted cancelled them citing inflation and supply chain issues.


“They had problems with inflation,” Van Drew, a Democrat-turned-Republican, said. “But they had problems with public relations. They had problems because the tide was turning.”

Van Drew later urged the crowd to “keep up the fight” and to “sue these people. Hold them up in any way that you can.”

Absent from the spirited discussion were Democrats or wind industry leaders. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and NOAA Fisheries were invited to attend but did not. US Wind, a developer planning two wind projects off the Maryland coast, also declined.

Nancy Sopko, senior director of external affairs at US Wind, said in a statement to E&E News on Saturday that Marylanders overwhelming support offshore wind development.

“In the many conversations we’ve had across the state, the support for offshore wind comes through loud and clear,” Sopko said. “Offshore wind is a win for the environment, a win for the economy, and a win for the future.”

Fishing industry ‘gutted’

That wasn’t the sentiment shared Saturday by a stacked panel of critics, which included witnesses from the fishing sector, an acoustics consultant and a representative from libertarian think tank Cato Institute.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said America’s fisheries would be “gutted” by the planned build out of offshore wind.

“By losing access to fishing grounds for multiple fisheries and direct access to ports throughout our coastlines, our entire commercial fishing industry and its infrastructure will be gutted,” she said.

Brady also snubbed the money paid to fishermen by offshore wind developers to offset impacts to their revenue.

“Fishermen do not want a bailout. They want to fish,” she said.

‘Too loud’

Robert Rand, the acoustics consultant, testified about a study he performed in May 2023 near a survey vessel operating in a wind lease area off the coast of New Jersey.

Measuring underwater sound at 0.5 nautical miles from the vessel, Rand reported that “vessel noise and sonar was dominating the ocean acoustic environment.”

Based in Maine, Rand is a longtime critic of the sound impacts of land-based wind across the United States.

“Offshore wind development brings high threat noise to marine species,” he told lawmakers Saturday. “It is too loud.”

Radar concerns

The panel’s detailed critique of offshore wind also touched on the potential negative impacts to radar. The Coast Guard and BOEM have called for more research on that.

Meghan Lapp, with the Center for Sustainable Fisheries, said radar interference will endanger fishermen during bad weather, a risk compounded by wind towers inhibiting search and rescue efforts by helicopter during emergencies.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J) said the radar issue could have repercussions for national security, by interfering with military operations.

Smith made unsubstantiated claims that members of the Department of Defense were being silenced to support the offshore wind industry.

“If you want to be admiral someday, you want to be a general, you want to serve at the Pentagon: Shut up,” he said. “That is exactly what is happening right now.”

BOEM and the Department of Defense have been at odds over offshore wind development at times. BOEM has removed some proposed wind areas from sale to satisfy DoD concerns.

In the Gulf of Mexico, BOEM inked lease stipulations that would require offshore wind leases pay the DOD for radar mitigation systems.

A hearing or not?

The Saturday meeting was the second public forum held by Republicans to galvanize criticism of offshore wind. Van Drew held a similar forum early in 2023 on the Jersey Shore. Harris and Smith attended both meetings.

House Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) complained last week that billing the meetings as “hearings” would mislead the public into thinking a committee had sanctioned the gatherings.

In a letter to Chair Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), he said both forums also impinged on the committee’s jurisdiction.

The “hearing” terminology appeared to mix up at least one participant Saturday.

Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan, a prominent advocate against offshore wind because of tourism worries, praised the representatives for convening the meeting.

“This is the first time a committee from the federal government has actually held a hearing here in Ocean City, where our residents and our property owners, who are the most affected by these projects, have a chance to speak,” he said.

This story also appears in Energywire.