By MADDY VITALE
Over the objections of Ocean City, state regulators Wednesday approved plans for a transmission line that would run through environmentally sensitive areas of the beach to connect an offshore wind energy farm to a land based power grid.
Orsted, a Danish energy company, proposed running the line under Ocean City’s streets to bring electricity onshore in Ocean City through a cable at the beach lots of 35th Street to connect the offshore wind turbines to the power grid at the former B.L. England Generating Station in Marmora.
But it needed the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to approve easements and other permits related to what is called the Ocean Wind 1 project.
During Wednesday’s meeting, BPU members went into executive session to discuss the matter, among other unrelated projects. Upon returning, the state agency granted Orsted the approvals needed.
“The board finds that the property rights and consents are reasonable and necessary for the construction or operation of the project,” a representative said addressing the board.
“Today’s vote fills in a procedural checkbox for Ocean Wind proponents,” Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian said of the BPU approval. “While Ocean City has taken no formal position on Ocean Wind’s application, it does have legitimate concerns about the potential impact of running high-voltage transmission lines under our beaches, neighborhood streets and wetlands.
“Instead of working with the city to satisfy these concerns, the state and Ocean Wind have chosen to strip the city of local review. This is a dangerous precedent for all New Jersey municipalities, and the city will continue a legal challenge of the Board of Public Utilities’ authority in this matter.”
Ocean City wanted Orsted to be compelled to release the costs of the routes of the transmission line. But the BPU said during Wednesday’s meeting, that it was “not germane” to the transmission route.
That was a major argument Ocean City has made against the proposed route along 35th Street.
Ocean City officials asserted that Orsted chose the area for the transmission line because it would have been the cheapest route.
Former Ocean City Council Vice-president Michael DeVlieger has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the wind farm project, criticized the BPU for approving the transmission line.
“The entire process with Orsted and the BPU has been fixed from the start,” DeVlieger said. “The arrogance of the BPU to vote on the transmission line request to violate our Green Acres preserved land before the Federal Environment Impact Study has been completed, prior to meeting with Ocean City’s officials tomorrow and the public hearing at the Flanders on Oct. 3 clearly demonstrates their bias and lack of objectivity in this matter. In my opinion, this reeks of corruption.”
Orsted has proposed running 99 huge wind turbines 15 miles offshore from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor, passing by Ocean City in the process. The wind farm is currently in the planning and permitting phase and is scheduled for completion by 2024.
Plans call for a 1,100-megawatt project that would create thousands of construction jobs and power over 500,000 homes.
During a Sept. 22 City Council meeting, Ocean City Business Administrator George Savastano explained that Ocean City will challenge the BPU’s authority to rule on the transmission line. The city is asking that the dispute be referred instead to the state Office of Administrative Law.
The city argued that the transmission line would disturb environmentally sensitive areas of Ocean City’s beachfront and wetlands.
Ocean City officials want Orsted to instead run the transmission line through what they believe would be a less harmful route that would take it across the Great Egg Harbor Inlet.
Savastano said Ocean City will demand during a Sept. 29 BPU hearing that Orsted to disclose the cost of possible alternate routes for the transmission cable.
Ocean City also argues that no decision should be made on the transmission line until an environmental impact analysis of the wind farm is completed, Savastano said.
Ocean Wind’s attorney, Gregory Eisenstark, said during a June BPU meeting, that Orsted believes the proposed route along 35th Street would be the best option for running the transmission line through Ocean City and would have only a minimal impact on local residents.
Orsted is also seeking public easements from Cape May County to run the transmission line under public land owned by the county.
The BPU is hosting two virtual meetings, both on Thursday Sept. 29, one at 9 a.m. and the other at 5:30 p.m. Both meetings are about the acquisition of easements through Ocean City and Cape May County for the transmission lines for the offshore wind project.
The Zoom Virtual Webinar can be viewed Thursday by clicking https://bit.ly/NJBPU-SEP-29-AM
Another meeting is being hosted by Orsted at the Flanders Hotel at 11th and Boardwalk at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3. Ocean City residents and second homeowners are strongly encouraged to attend this public hearing on the transmission line.