In 2019, New Jersey will face an energy crisis. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant, which provides 637 megawatts of electricity1 to New Jersey, will shut down permanently.2 But, New Jersey, along with the rest of the east coast states, is a geographically fortunate state in terms of its shore-front location. It has access to a renewable resource that could potentially power eighty percent of the entire state’s energy needs3: off-shore wind.4 This valuable resource is something New Jersey should invest in to provide a sustainable, permanent, and safe future for New Jersey inhabitants. While it is subject to certain inadequacies, including siting issues, intermittency, upfront costs, and potential threats to avian wildlife, its benefits certainly outweigh its deficiencies.
Much of the energy modern civilization uses is produced using fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases (“GHGs”). But, there are alternatives that provide energy without producing GHGs, and some of them have been used for centuries5 while others have been developed more recently.6 They include wind power, photovoltaic solar power, solar hot water, nuclear, hydroelectric generation, and geothermal, among others. Wind energy is New Jersey’s best choice for providing renewable, clean energy to its residents because wind is so prevalent off the coast of New Jersey.7 New Jersey lacks the open spaces and volume of direct insolation that western states have for solar energy (either photovoltaic or hot water) or land-based wind power, lacks large topographic variation that aids in hydroelectric generation, and has no active volcanism for geothermal energy. Offshore wind is more constant than on land,8 and an offshore location offers a larger surface area to create a larger wind mill farm than any single land area in New Jersey.
Moreover, intermittency, which is the largest obstacle for successfully using off-shore wind energy, can be mitigated by innovations in energy storage. Intermittency is the natural variability of wind intensity that makes levels of energy production difficult to accurately predict.9 But, it is important to note that “wind over the oceans is steadier [than over land], providing more reliable output and hence lower reserve requirements.”10 There are multiple solutions to the issues presented by intermittency in wind energy production. First, there will be other sources of energy production, as a healthy energy system will have multiple sources. Second, advances in energy storage are on the horizon, and each of these could be used to supplement the energy needs of New Jersey residents to counteract the intermittency problems of wind energy.11
Both mechanical and chemical energy storage are viable options. Mechanical energy storage is using the motion or potential motion of a source to produce energy.12 There are several kinds of mechanical energy storage, including pumped hydroelectric storage (“PHS”), compressed air storage (“CAS”), and flywheel energy storage (“FES”). For example, in PHS, one could use energy during times of surplus and low demand to raise quantities of water to high elevations, then during higher demands, let gravity pull the water through a generator.13 In FES, a spinning flywheel, usually spinning at an extremely rapid rate, powers a generator.14 There are other forms of mechanical energy as well, including potential energy from a raised weight and generators that use tension as a source of potential energy, similar to springs that store energy by being forced apart or rubber bands that store energy as tightly wound bundles. Chemical energy storage is also an option, which is essentially the use of a conventional battery, such as a lead acid car battery or a lithium ion camera battery, and it is the way biological organisms store energy.15
There is also the growing idea of using ‘smart grid’ technologies to enhance the efficiency of energy use and storage.16In this idea, excess energy that is produced from wind sources during times of surplus is used to engage in a task that will conserve energy at later times, such as using the excess energy to freeze water then using that ice to cool buildings during the day, when summer energy loads are at their peak. This idea is not an alternative to any one mode of energy production, rather it is a method of increasing efficiency through the synthesized use of multiple modes of energy production.
But there are other problems associated with wind energy as well, including siting and threats to wildlife. These problems are evident in the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, which was proposed in 2001 and was supposed to be the first offshore wind project in the United States, but has not yet been started.17 Some interested groups claim that the wind turbines will be unsightly or that they will interfere with commerce or natural and historic areas.18 The group Save Our Sound has created a campaign against the Cape Wind project because it claims that the wind turbines will cost too much, desecrate tribal lands, threaten wildlife, and result in job loss.19 But, these issues are not substantially supported by the available evidence. Cape Wind proponents argue that the project will produce over a thousand jobs, many them permanent, and will create other secondary industries, such as eco-tourism.20 Moreover, from shore at sea level, the wind turbines will only be one-half of an inch above the horizon, so they will not be unsightly or reduce property values.21 Further, there is no evidence that the wind turbines will adversely affect fishing,22 and when properly sited, it is possible to place a windfarm in a location that does not interfere with the paths of migratory birds or other wildlife.23
The legal framework in New Jersey and in the United States as a whole is set up to adopt wind energy as a major component of New Jersey’s energy portfolio. In the summer of 2014, the United States Department of the Interior leased 344,000 acres off the coast of New Jersey for offshore wind development; a massive area compared to the 15,360 acres of the Cape Wind project.24 Offshore wind is further encouraged by federal and state statutes designed to facilitate such development, but nonetheless the projects remain stuck in legal doldrums as challengers continue to prohibit construction. The federal government has encouraged and subsidized wind energy since the Wind Energy Systems Act of 1980, which provides federal funding for research and development of wind energy as well as for the construction of actual wind energy generation facilities.25 In 2009, DOI and the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) announced that that they two agencies would cooperate to “facilitate the permitting of renewable energy in offshore waters.”26
Further, New Jersey is also encouraging growth in this sector. In 2010, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill known as the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act that “directs the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (“BPU”) to develop an offshore renewable energy certificate program that calls for a percentage of electricity sold in the state to be from offshore wind energy. This percentage would be developed to support at least 1,100 megawatts of generation from qualified offshore wind projects.”27
Wind energy has already proven to be a successful investment: “[b]y the end of 2006, the total world wind energy capacity was over 74,000 MW – a capital investment worth about $100 billion.”28 Of that, 15,000 MW, or twenty-five percent of the total capacity, had only been added in the last year.29 While the United States has not cultivated its wind energy to the same degree as many European countries, it certainly has the potential to do so; if the United States began harnessing its offshore wind resources, some estimate it would be equivalent to 70% of the power generated in the United States in 2005.30
To date there are no operational offshore wind turbines along the New Jersey shore, or in any state for that matter.31 The media has noted that four years after the Offshore Wind Development Act, the BPU “has yet to adopt rules that would promote offshore wind by awarding developers subsidies from ratepayers to make their projects economically viable.”32 That begs the question: why not? Why are so many energy regulators and other interest groups opposed to developing offshore wind infrastructure? The answer to that question at the nexus of unprogressive economics and status quo maintenance; it might cost more to build these wind turbines and the associated transmission lines than to just continue to burn fossil fuels and, more significantly, the interest groups opposed to offshore wind energy (or any renewable energy) may be acting in conjunction with fossil fuel industries, which have an interest in retaining their domination of the market.33 This is a problematic conclusion, particularly because of how significantly it ignores the externalization of burdens characterized by fossil fuel consumption and the domination of fossil fuel-based industries in the energy market.
The problem is compounded by the fact that Oyster Creek, one of the three nuclear power plants in New Jersey that collectively supply more than half of the state’s energy,34 will be shutting down in 2019.35 This situation means that New Jersey will lose a significant portion of its energy production in the next half decade, and will require replacement. Nuclear does not produce airborne emissions, so if Oyster Creek was replaced with oil, coal, or natural gas power plants, the state’s total emissions would drastically increase. If, however, regulators permitted offshore wind energy production, New Jersey would not further burden the global climate by increasing its GHG emissions. But this problem is unfortunately not simply a matter of doing what is best for the environment, it is also a matter of what is the cheapest option.
So, what is New Jersey to do? Proponents of offshore wind energy must convince the public of their message by explaining that (1) New Jersey is reaching an energy crisis because of the closing of the Oyster Creek facility; (2) GHG emissions harm the global environment to such a degree that they must be reduced, which is a goal worth paying for; (3) the most promising method of reducing GHG emissions from New Jersey’s energy production is through offshore wind; (4) the finding that although offshore wind may cost one to two percent more for ratepayers than fossil fuel methods of energy production, the latter method externalize burdens on the rest of the world while the former method does not, so a cost-benefit analysis of using offshore wind over other energy sources must include all benefits and burdens; and (5) other environmental impacts are manageable when properly studied so any adverse effects will be reduced to the maximum extent practicable.
If proponents of offshore wind energy can successfully make their case to the citizens of New Jersey, or in the more likely alternative, the interested industrial and political parties in the state, then ideally the project will gain enough public support to progress. Although no offshore wind turbines have been built, preparations are being made for the project to begin: Fishermen’s Energy has broken “ground in Atlantic City… to make way for underground lines that may one day send electricity from five offshore wind turbines to an inland substation.”36
In this time of the impending threat of global climate change, an attitude of ‘business as usual’ has only created the situation humanity is currently facing. Historically, when some societal ill threatens public health, welfare, or safety, the majority of Americans have made the best choice in terms of providing the most good for the most people. That was the case with abolition, the Women’s Suffragist Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Environmental Movement, where the evidence clearly indicated that some ill needed to be remedied- even if it took a few lifetimes. In the offshore wind context, all of the available data indicates that, from a holistic perspective, human action is causing a global problem and New Jersey residents are at the trailhead that begins the path toward a solution. In terms beyond the bounds of just economic justifications or government regulation, this is a cause in which Aldo Leopold’s idea of a ‘Land Ethic’ readily applies.37 Here, New Jersey residents and regulators can build a strong foundation for future prosperity, if they so choose.