Feds, NY and NJ: Reject the Port Ambrose LNG Facility. Choose Offshore Wind Power Instead

This evening, the U.S. Coast Guard will hold a public hearing as part of its effort to determine whether an offshore, liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility can be sited in an area off the south shore of Long Island called the New York Bight. The Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Transportation have the power to approve or deny the project’s application; they should reject it in no uncertain terms. Moreover, New York and New Jersey Governors Cuomo and Christie should use their legal authority to veto the project.

The reasons are clear and simple:

  1. Our country and our state need more renewable energy, rather than less. And putting a LNG terminal in the Bight will make it nearly impossible to site an already-proposed 350-700 megawatt offshore wind power project slated for this same site.
  2. The so-called Port Ambrose LNG terminal would continue our dependence on dirty fossil fuels that pollute our air and wreak havoc on our climate.

Here are some more details:

The Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project, a collaboration among three New York-area utilities, both public and private, began the process of planning the proposed offshore wind project well before the LNG terminal was proposed and it’s moving ahead at a good clip. Several private developers have also expressed interest in building offshore wind projects at this site. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency responsible for offshore renewable energy programs, has responded favorably, collecting not only proposals for wind farm development but also information for an environmental assessment and review of the area that will lead to a competitive auction for leasing rights relatively soon. The LNG proposal should not trump that orderly process.

Liberty Natural Gas, the company that’s proposed the Port Ambrose LNG terminal, calls the wind projects and the LNG facility “compatible uses.” But the truth is, they conflict. The area Liberty has proposed for its projects is already crisscrossed with busy shipping lanes. And because massive LNG tankers require large buffer zones to protect in event of explosions, under the most likely scenario, we can have either the offshore wind projects or the LNG facility, not both. (An alternate site that Liberty has proposed in the eastern part of the Bight isn’t viable. It might well conflict with naval activities there. It would impact popular fishing grounds known as the “Yankee Spot.” And, there’d be an even higher risk of accident given that site’s proximity to the aforementioned busy navigation lanes.)

The LNG facility raises significant safety concerns, to be sure. But explosions are not the only ones. With the concentration of carbon and methane pollution in our atmosphere climbing at an alarming rate, now is not the time to increase our reliance on fossil fuels.

Offshore wind power, by contrast, offers tremendous things to us New Yorkers. To begin with, there’s pollution-free electricity and a more reliable and diversified energy mix. There are lots of good jobs to be had in the industry, too. A recent SUNY Stonybrook report, in fact, found that building a single, 250-megawatt wind power project off the coast of Long Island could create more than 2,800 full-time jobs and add $645 million to the local economy.

Sustainably sited offshore wind power also goes a long way toward addressing the area’s peak-demand power shortages, which cause some of the most polluting and expensive power plants to come online. That’s because on hot summer afternoons and evenings, when demand for electricity and the chance of blackouts are both highest, and during serious cold snaps, like today’s, offshore wind produces the most power.

The clean energy technology also addresses a problem rooted in our geography and our population density: the extremely difficulty of building new transmission lines from one part of New York State to the City in an already heavily constructed region. Offshore wind power can be conveyed via underwater transmission lines. These lines need to be sited and constructed carefully. But they are easier to build than on-land transmission infrastructure.

In view of these issues, it’s time to take a deep breath and assess our priorities. New York State and New Jersey have worked hard to recover from the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy and New York has adopted strong climate resilience strategies for the future. President Obama’s overall Climate Action Plan and his Clean Power Plan for existing power plants announced this June underscore the need to make smart choices in our efforts to curb global warming. It would be the height of irony—and a damaging energy policy—to privilege the construction of a fossil-fuel import facility over a much-needed and long-overdue renewable offshore wind farm.

Instead, NRDC urges the federal government, and New York and New Jersey to work together to build a clean energy future, one in which renewable energy prevails. The wind project is the choice that offers a cleaner, healthier future for our children and for future generations of New Yorkers, not the LNG facility. It’s as simple as that.