The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) gave the green light last week to an offshore commercial wind energy lease sale near New York City. In doing so, the department took “a major step in broadening our nation’s energy portfolio, harnessing power near population centers on the East Coast,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said at a 2 June briefing to announce the plan.
Fishermen oppose the plan to erect windmills on pylons within approximately 329 square kilometers of the New York Bight, a stretch of coastal Atlantic waters east of New Jersey and 18 kilometers south of Long Island.
The plan brings to 11 the number of states either participating or interested in the offshore wind energy program of the agency’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), according to the Interior Department. A commercial wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island, which starts operating later this year, would provide the first electricity generated from offshore wind in the United States, according to the agency. A sale notice for a wind energy area offshore from North Carolina could come out this summer, an agency spokesperson said.
The now DOI-approved wind farm off New York, first proposed in 2011 through a request for a commercial lease from the New York Power Authority, could conservatively produce 70 megawatts of energy annually using standard turbines with about 3.6-megawatt capacity, which could power 245,000 homes, according to the Interior Department. However, Jewell said the amount of energy “could be materially more than that just based on how far technology has gone in the last few years.”
A Potential Boon for New York
Offshore wind turbines “can enable America’s most populous city to source large amounts of energy close to home while improving local air quality,” Nancy Sopko, advocacy and federal legislative affairs manager for the American Wind Energy Association told Eos.
Anthony Fiore, policy advisor for the New York City mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, told Eos that offshore wind energy would help the city reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
Concerns from the Fishing Industry
However, the fishing industry “has repeatedly called for BOEM to resite the project,” noted the Fisheries Survival Fund in a statement emailed to Eos. Wind development in the area could constrict valuable scallop habitat and create navigational hazards for fishing boats, according to public comments the fisheries organization submitted to BOEM in 2013. Construction of the project could also harm the scallop fishery, the comments stated. The group told Eos that the scallop fishery there harvests several million dollars’ worth of the shellfish per year and that fishermen also haul in squid, monkfish, summer flounder, herring, and quahog from the area.
Shippers, Scientists Weighed In
In its public comments submitted to BOEM, also in 2013, the World Shipping Council said the lease area sits between two of the busiest traffic lanes for cargo ships in the United States. It urged a safe buffer zone of more than the 1 nautical mile offset from those lanes currently provided for in the BOEM plan.
Roger Flood and Robert Cerrato, professors at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y., also provided public comments in 2013, calling for studies and mapping before and during construction of the project to anticipate the effects of wind turbine tower construction and spacing on underwater life and seabirds.
At last week’s briefing, Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said the agency has tried to find “the sweet spot where we have identified the fewest potential conflicts” for where to locate an offshore wind farm. Schneider acknowledged that some stakeholders, including fishermen, still have concerns about the plan. “Obviously,” she said, “there is still some additional work to do.”
Federal Register Notice
BOEM published a notice of the proposed sale Monday in the Federal Register, kicking off a 60-day public comment period. In the notice, BOEM acknowledges concerns raised about navigational safety and commercial fishing that need to be addressed. Later this year, BOEM will hold public meetings and publish an environmental assessment.
—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer