Monmouth Poll: Support for wind energy loses strength

A majority of New Jerseyans don’t seem to mind the development of wind energy off the coast of New Jersey, according to a Monmouth University poll released Tuesday. However, the current level of support is far below the widespread backing it has had over the last 15 years.

According to the poll of 814 adults conducted by phone from Aug. 10 to 14, 4 in 10 residents thought wind farms could hurt the state’s summer tourism economy and just under half saw a connection between wind energy development and the recent spate of whales washing up on New Jersey beaches.

Few saw wind energy leading to major job growth in the state.

Just over half of New Jersey residents (54%) favored placing electricity-generating wind farms off the state’s coast, while 40% oppose this action.

In 2019, wind energy support stood at a much higher 76%, with just 15% opposed. Prior to that, support for offshore wind farms was even higher, ranging between 80% and 84% in polls taken from 2008 to 2011.

“There was a time when wind energy was not really a political issue. It consistently received widespread bipartisan support for more than a decade. That is no longer the case,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.

One factor that influences public opinion on offshore wind energy is its potential economic
impact on the Jersey Shore. Four in 10 Garden State residents (40%) said placing wind farms off the coast would hurt summer tourism.

There is no real difference of opinion between coastal county residents (43%) and other New Jerseyans (38%) on this, but there is a partisan difference: 56% of Republicans said wind energy will hurt Shore tourism while 41% of independents and just 24% of Democrats agreed. Few New Jerseyans (9%) believed offshore wind will help tourism, with 44% saying it would have no impact.

Also, according to those polled, few New Jerseyans saw wind energy development as a boon for the overall state economy, with just 22% saying the industry would create a lot of jobs for the state. Most (55%) said that a few new jobs would be created, while 15% expect the industry would not create any new jobs.

Those opinions go against what Gov. Phil Murphy has described offshore wind as — a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.” Murphy’s administration has said the investment can fundamentally transform the New Jersey economy. If the state reaches 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035, it could see 20,000 new jobs in construction, manufacturing and professional services by 2030.

Another factor that has played into the debate around wind energy has been the number of whales washing up on New Jersey beaches recently — another point of contention, with many experts saying the deaths are unrelated.

Just under half of the public felt that the development of offshore wind energy is either definitely (20%) or probably (25%) contributing to these strandings, while a similar number said wind energy is definitely not (10%) or probably not (35%) a factor. Republicans (63%) were much more likely than Democrats (26%) to believe that wind energy development is definitely or probably playing a role in these whale beachings.

Opinion on the beached whale phenomenon has a high correlation with support for wind energy. Among New Jerseyans who see a connection between the two, just 29% favor offshore wind energy development. Among those who feel these things are not related, 76% support wind energy.

“Changing the status quo is very hard, and the state has set some very ambitious goals to move to more renewable energy sources and reduce fossil fuel emissions. It is not surprising that more local concerns are getting raised as plans for offshore wind advance. Clearly, the state and wind industry have to do a much better job in reaching out to communities to demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of these projects, as well as to counter misinformation about threats to tourism and threats to whales,” Tony MacDonald, director of the Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University, said.

Currently, 37% of residents said significantly increasing offshore wind energy should be a major priority for New Jersey over the next 10 years. This is down from 48% who said the same in 2019. There has been a decline in seeing wind as a top priority among all partisan groups, including Democrats (55%, down from 66%), independents (35%, down from 43%) and Republicans (17%, down from 32%).

Among all New Jerseyans, 30% said wind energy development should be a minor priority (similar to 34% in 2019), while 30% said it should not be a priority at all for the state (up from 11%).

Thinking about the potential impact on them personally, just 25% of Garden State residents would favor developing offshore wind if it caused their electricity rates to increase for the next few years. In 2019, a larger number (41%) backed wind energy development even with the possibility of short-term rate increases.

The Monmouth University Poll also finds that statewide opinion of other energy options has become more favorable at the same time wind energy support has dropped:

  • 41% of New Jerseyans favor building a nuclear reactor in the state;
  • 40% of state residents favor drilling for oil or gas off the coast of New Jersey.