Offshore wind development for US sector leader New Jersey advanced today with the release of the draft environmental review of the Shell-EDF’s nearly 3 gigawatt 200-turbine Atlantic Shores array.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), lead regulator of energy development in federal waters, announced the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project under development some nine miles (14 kilometres) off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“As BOEM moves forward with our environmental reviews, we are committed to working with Tribal nations, government agency partners, lessees, environmental organisations, local communities, ocean users and others,” said BOEM director Elizabeth Klein.

The EIS is an intensive look at the project’s impact over its lifetime on marine ecosystems and society. It takes several years to complete and includes input from multiple agencies across several US government departments, especially National Oceanic &d Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service (NOAA-Fisheries).

Once an EIS is approved, the project is issued its record of decision (ROD), enabling it to go forward with installation.

The draft EIS encompasses a ‘project envelope’ of two developments by the joint venture, only one of which, the 1.5 GW Atlantic Shores 1, has been awarded an offtake contract by New Jersey. Atlantic Shores estimates that it can fit a second project in the same lease.

The combined proposal includes up to 200 total wind turbines and ten offshore substations with subsea transmission cables making landfall at up either Atlantic City or Sea Girt, or both.

Atlantic Shores has not announced a bid yet New Jersey’s Round 3 for up to 4 GW of capacity announced in March.

Atlantic Shores also won acreage in the New York Bight, paying some $780 million for 79,351 acres holding at least 1 GW of capacity.

The developers are investing big into the state’s 11 GW mandate — the nation’s largest — by signing a letter of intent to lease marshalling space in the New Jersey Wind Port (NJWP) under construction in Salem County at the state’s southern end.

Vestas’ 15 megwatt turbines have been selected for the project, enabling the Danish OEM to signal its own intention for manufacturing and assembly at the NJWP.

Orsted’s Ocean Wind 1 project will take the wind port’s phase one marshalling space starting at the end of this year.

Ocean Wind 1’s draft EIS was released in June last year, and BOEM is currently reviewing feedback with its ROD expected before the end of this year, adding to the list of developments headed for installation.

As part of its commitments made towards meeting the Biden administration’s national goal of 30 GW by 2030, BOEM pledged in 2021 to review 16 construction and operations plans (COPs) totalling over 20 GW.

BOEM anticipates issuing the project its ROD early next year.

Whale controversy

Amid rapid progress by the state’s sector, the industry has lately received strenuous criticism for its alleged link to a rash of whale deaths over the past six months.

Some 37 whales have washed up on the Atlantic seaboard, more than two dozen in New York and New Jersey, with critics blaming acoustic survey activities by offshore wind developers.

Both state and federal legislators from New Jersey have called for a moratorium on sector activities until the causes of the strandings can be determined.

Four endangered species of whale inhabit Northeast US coastal regions, including the fin, sei, sperm, and critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (NARW), of which less than 350 individuals are known to survive.

NARW critical habitat area is some 270 miles (435 kilometres) north of the Atlantic Shores project, but the area is along migration routes and is considered the region is biologically significant for the survival of the species.

The industry has pushed back against what it says is misinformation by sector opponents, many of which have visible ties to oil and gas companies, and BOEM and other agencies have repeatedly said that there is nothing tying sector activities to whale deaths.

“There’s no good evidence suggesting a link between” offshore wind surveys and whale deaths, BOEM director Klein told Upstream’s sister renewables publication Recharge.

Publication in the Federal Review, the nation's journal of record, on 19 May, will open a 45-day public comment period that ends on 3 July. BOEM will hold two live events as well.

(This article first appeared on Upstream's sister publication, Recharge)