A decision by an offshore wind developer to cancel two major projects in New Jersey delighted Republicans on Wednesday but left climate hawks nervous about the future of the critical clean energy source.
Ørsted, the Danish offshore wind company, pulled the plug Tuesday on Ocean Wind, a two-phased development that would have provided power to around 1 million people. That was good news for two New Jersey Republicans — Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith.
“Ørsted’s decision was a first step in exposing the economic unsustainability and environmental dangerousness of ocean wind turbines — each the size of the Chrysler Building in New York City — and Orsted’s pulling out of the deal may help slow and eventually halt similar projects off New Jersey’s coast,” said Smith.
Both are part of a growing opposition among House Republicans for any offshore wind developments, which they claim hurts local tourism, affects commercial fishing and leads to marine life deaths, most notably whales and dolphins.
NOAA has been tracking an uptick in whale strandings off the New Jersey coast since 2016 but has found no evidence that those strandings are connected to offshore wind development.
Despite that uncertainty, whales and offshore wind have now become a campaign issue. Former President Donald Trump, a persistent opponent of wind power, congratulated Van Drew.
“The whales, which are dying in record numbers because of these wind scams, are very happy tonight,” Trump said on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Way to go Jeff.”
Even a New Jersey Democrat admitted that the cancellation could play well with some voters in the state.
“I know many people in New Jersey will applaud it because they’ve been concerned about what’s happening in the ocean with sea animals,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who in the past has been supportive of New Jersey offshore wind. He did not provide further comment.
Ørsted’s decision, however, had little to do with whales. They said high inflation, rising interest rates and supply chain bottlenecks gave them “no choice but to cease development of Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2.”
That reality opened up the Biden administration to significant criticism from Republicans outside of New Jersey, who have argued that the White House is flooding money and tax credits into unproven renewable energy projects.
“When a wind farm, which often includes significant government subsidies, still can’t make it, that just shows you how out of touch [President] Joe Biden is with the needs of the American people,” said Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
‘A rough patch’
Many climate hawks didn’t exactly deny Republican accusations that the economics of offshore wind could be heading in the wrong direction over the next few years.
“I’ve been concerned for many months,” said Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) of offshore wind projects in the Northeast. “And I think it’s now sinking in with the Biden administration that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Those prospects are making climate hawks queasy, at least in the short term. Biden has set a goal of 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind along U.S. coastlines this decade to fight climate change.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said the offshore wind industry is almost certainly in trouble over the next few years due to inflation and interest rate concerns that Ørsted faced, but that it would eventually be alleviated by new contracts in the post-Inflation Reduction Act world.
“It will just be a matter of time before most of these contracts are renegotiated, especially when we have the certainty of some of the adders in the IRA. Some [projects] will be able to move forward and others will fall by the wayside,” Heinrich said.
“I have a lot of optimism about offshore wind generally in the Northeast, but we’ll be going through a rough patch for a while,” Heinrich said.
Other climate Democrats joined Heinrich in expressing an optimistic tone for the future of wind energy, including House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)
“One company’s announcement does not change our commitment to transitioning to a clean economy and investing in renewable energy sources,” said Pallone.
Still, Ørsted’s withdrawal is a big blow to both the White House and congressional Democrats in a key sector of their intended clean energy future.
“Ørsted’s decision to withdraw from its commitment to New Jersey is extremely disappointing,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).