NY Releases Master Plan to Grow Offshore Wind Power

New York State is pushing back on drilling and pursuing clean offshore wind power energy—and the thousands of clean energy jobs that go with it.

Risky, dirty offshore drilling or clean offshore wind power? The choice couldn’t be starker. The Trump administration is pushing to open the Atlantic Ocean up to dangerous oil drilling—risking a repeat of the BP spill in the Gulf off the East Coast.  But New York State is pushing back on drilling and pursuing clean offshore wind power energy—and the thousands of clean energy jobs that go with it—instead.  

Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a goal of building 2,400 megawatts of clean offshore wind power in the coastal waters off New York by 2030—enough energy to power 1.25 million homes. Scaling up offshore wind is crucial to meeting the state’s larger goal of getting 50% of our power from renewable energy resources by 2030

New York made big strides toward making that vision a reality today when the state released its Offshore Wind Master Plan. This comprehensive roadmap is aimed at making New York a national leader in offshore wind development, growing good-paying local clean energy jobs and protecting valuable marine resources at the same time. 

As the plan recognizes: “Offshore wind is an energy resource with the potential to transform New York’s energy system in ways that will have extraordinary environmental, energy and economic benefits for the State and beyond.”

Based on a quick initial review, here’s a summary of the key points in the new Offshore Wind Master Plan:  

Identification of the most favorable areas for potential offshore wind energy development off New York State

Building off plans already announced last year, New York’s master plan highlights offshore wind “areas for consideration”—these are stretches of ocean waters at least 20 miles offshore where offshore wind projects could be built while avoiding or minimizing potential conflicts with wildlife and other marine uses such as shipping lanes and fishing. The state has identified four areas off the coast of Long Island, not visible from shore, that it believes are optimal. Of course, each project that moves forward will also be subject to detailed and thorough environmental review. My colleague Kaitlin Brazill will post a blog looking at these proposed offshore wind energy areas here.

Environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind energy development

The plan explains that meeting the Governor’s goal of building 2400 MW of offshore wind by 2030 would reduce carbon pollution equivalent to taking one million cars off the road.  Offshore wind will account for one-third of all the expected greenhouse gas emissions from New York’s 50% renewable energy requirement.  Looking at the total air pollution that offshore wind power will avoid, the total annual health benefits of New York’s offshore wind goal are valued between $73 million to $165 million annually.

The jobs, supply chain and economic benefits of offshore wind are also significant for New York. The study finds that by meeting the Governor’s offshore wind plans, New York can create nearly 5,000 new jobs by 2028 in manufacturing, installation and operation of offshore wind projects, resulting in more than $6 billion in in-state expenditures.

Financial approaches to purchasing offshore wind energy at the lowest cost

The plan offers multiple options on ways to purchase offshore wind energy that will ensure that growing numbers of projects can be financed and built, that there is competition for contracts, and that the costs of offshore wind power continue to go down.

In Europe, as offshore wind technologies improve and competition increases, the cost of offshore wind is plummeting. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, offshore wind prices in the United Kingdom declined by almost one-third from 2010-2016 and NREL predicts a stunning 67% further reduction in E.U. offshore wind prices from 2017 to 2025.  Experts predict a similar downward trend for offshore wind costs in the U.S. as the pipeline of projects grows and the U.S. supply chain grows. In places like Long Island’s South Fork, where electricity costs are high and land for energy development is scarce, offshore wind is already the lowest-cost option.

After a public comment period, New York’s Public Service Commission will decide how power purchasing agreements between offshore wind energy developers and utilities will be structured.

Measures to avoid or mitigate any potential ecosystem impacts

For New York to success with its offshore wind goals, the state must also be a leader in ensuring that offshore wind projects are planned in a way that is “smart from the start” and protective of ocean ecosystems and endangered marine species such as the North Atlantic right whale. New York has outlines plans to move forward with stakeholder working groups that will work together to “will help maximize the potential benefits and minimize the potential impacts” of offshore wind development. Importantly, the plan says that these working groups “could develop [best management practices], intended to supplement federal requirements and help minimize impacts from future offshore wind energy development on existing ocean uses.” These best management provisions in turn could become conditions for offshore wind purchasing contracts. 

The state also commits to convene a scientific workshop with top marine scientists to review the science on marine ecosystem protections, followed by convening an environmental technical working group that “will focus on measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate” possible impacts on wildlife. The state will charge this working group with using “an ecosystems-centered approach” based on sound science to develop wildlife beset management practices, identification of research needs and coordination, and adaptive management plans. The plan also asks the working group to consider the creation of an environmental conservation fun to address the potential cumulative impacts of many offshore wind projects taken together.

This year is shaping up to be a game-changer for U.S. offshore wind, especially on the East Coast. Developers have already secured some 13 offshore wind leases stretching from Massachusetts down to North Carolina. New York’s South Fork wind project is already under development. Utility regulators in Maryland have approved contracts for two offshore wind facilities. Developers have submitted proposals for offshore wind farms in Massachusetts, where the state has set a goal of 1,600 MW of offshore wind energy by 2027, and there are more plans in the works for North Carolina and Virginia. Newly elected New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has set a target of 3,500 MW of offshore wind for his state by 2030.

With a master plan in place, New York can ride the crest of this promising new wave of clean energy development. We look forward to working with New York and all stakeholders to make the promise of clean, responsible offshore wind development a reality for all New Yorkers. The Empire State is wisely saying no to offshore drilling and yes to offshore wind power.