"Obviously there's a need for more electricity generation in New Jersey," said Jeanne M. Fox, president of the state Board of Public Utilities and a member of the panel.
According to the panel's report, energy use in the region is growing at a rate of 1.4 percent a year. As energy prices increase, more people are looking to cheaper, cleaner sources of energy such as wind.
The report discusses wind energy's environmental benefits, such as the fact that it doesn't produce the so-called greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global climate change, and its potential drawbacks, including the danger to shore and migratory birds.
A key section of the report focuses on tourism, the state's second biggest industry, looking at whether recreational fishing would be harmed or whether the turbines would blight the beach.
Dena Mottola, executive director of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, said while the report is preliminary, she had been expecting a clearer picture of where the state is heading in terms of offshore wind energy.
She said she found the environmental benefits section "poorly documented and not fleshed out." For example, she said, the report inflates concerns that the turbines would mar tourists' view. In fact, they would be hardly visible miles offshore, she said.
The Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel described the report as "hot air," saying it focused on the negative impacts without giving enough factual documentation. Tittel said the report also failed to describe wind energy's potentially enormous benefits.
Members of the panel said they tried to give a balanced and accurate a picture, and that they deliberately did not come to any conclusions because they will be listening to more public input before coming up with a final recommendation.
"There are some pluses, and there are some minuses," said Edward J. McKenna Jr., mayor of Red Bank and the panel's chairman. "This is a succinct summary of the information we've gathered to date. ... We're giving everyone the opportunity to give us more information."
The panel has six public members: Timothy P. Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society; Theodore J. Korth, special counsel to the New Jersey Audubon Society; Bonnie J. McCay and Scott A. Weiner, both from Rutgers University; Diane Wieland, director of Cape May County's Department of Tourism, and McKenna.
It also includes three members representing the state: Virginia S. Bauer, secretary of the Commerce, Economic Growth & Tourism Commission; Bradley M. Campbell, environmental protection commissioner, and Fox.
The panel plans to hold more public hearings, and will make a final recommendation to Gov.-elect Jon S. Corzine in March.