Another Step Forward on Offshore Wind for New York State

The strong ocean winds blowing off the Atlantic coast could power more than ten million American homes with clean, renewable power. This electricity would be free of air and water pollution. And, importantly, it would be generated close to where it’s needed—the dense urban corridor that runs from Boston to New York to Philadelphia—all the way to Washington D.C.

While America’s first offshore wind project has yet to be built, a number of states are vying to be first in the water. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s strong renewable energy policies could help bring about, by the end of this year, the start of construction for Cape Wind–the first offshore wind project approved by the federal government. Rhode Island has put policies in place to support the development of a five-turbine demonstration project off Block Island; approvals for this project are near final and construction is slated to begin in 2015.  New Jersey has forward-looking legislation to support offshore wind, and a small project proposed there by Fishermen’s Energy could move ahead soon. Maryland enacted similar legislation earlier this year as well, and Virginia and North Carolina are showing interest. New York, though, despite its strong renewable energy program, has been slower to take action to harness the power of offshore wind.

That has begun to change. And today, the New York State Department of State released a long-awaited study that maps out wind, wildlife and environmental conditions in New York’s ocean waters. As my colleague Sarah Chasis writes , this study will allow offshore wind projects to be sited in ways that are “smart from the start”—that avoid potential conflicts with wildlife and other marine uses. Ensuring that these projects are sustainably sited will also speed the process of approving and building them – a very important result.

What are the next steps to make offshore wind a reality off New York City and Long Island?

First, as I explained in January, New York State should commit to move forward on an offshore wind proposal by a public-private collaborative partnership involving the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority and Con Edison. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which regulates offshore wind projects in federal waters, is considering whether to grant a lease for this project. The project would be located in federal waters eleven miles south of Long Beach, Long Island, and would generate at least 350 megawatts (MW) of electricity for Long Island and New York City, with the ability to expand to as much as 700 MW. That’s enough electricity to power an estimated 245,000 homes. The proposed lease area is approximately 127 square miles.

BOEM is checking to see if a competitive auction is necessary for the lease for this site. If so, BOEM will hold an auction, in which NYPA should participate. If not, BOEM will offer to lease the site to NYPA. Either way, NYPA and its partners should continue to work to secure the lease, submit a site assessment plan to learn more about wind and environmental conditions and would then propose a specific project and an exact site. A full environmental review process would then follow. Other promising offshore wind projects have also been proposed for New York waters, including two large projects proposed by Deepwater Wind – one north of Montauk on the tip of Long Island and one off New York Harbor.  New York State should adopt an ambitious offshore wind goal and put in place the necessary policies to make this goal a reality.

Today’s New York State marine planning study brings New York one step closer to clean, renewable offshore wind. The issuance of a lease to the NYPA project would be another important step. To help bring projects like these all the way to fruition, New York State also needs targeted investment policies that facilitate financing and contain costs. Such policies should be relatively easy to implement. Already, New Jersey and Maryland are putting into practice financial models used successfully overseas. My colleague Doug Sims authored a whitepaper that offers practical guidance on state financial strategies for supporting offshore wind. As Doug reports, New York could “combine the revenue policies outlined in the paper with low-cost financing from Governor Cuomo’s recently announced Green Bank and the BOEM federal lease to deliver exceptional offshore wind value for money.”

In 1881, the Empire State made history by harnessing the majestic power of Niagara Falls to produce renewable hydropower. Let’s make history again, now, by combining smart siting policies with smart financing strategies to harness the power of offshore wind.