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Source: LI Herald

Feds Identify Offshore Wind Farm Site

Interior Department designates area 11 miles off Long Beach coast


Posted: March 24, 2016
Originally Published: March 23, 2016

Nearly a decade after plans for an offshore wind farm several miles off Jones Beach were scuttled, federal officials announced last week that an area off the coast of Long Beach has been identified for potential wind energy development — and called it a major step toward creating clean energy for the region.

The announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management — naming an 81,000-acre site in federal waters 11 miles south of the barrier island that would be suitable for wind turbines — was welcome news to environmental groups that have been calling for renewable energy sources and ways to reduce the region’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“This wind farm will be at least 11 miles offshore, if not more, and that’s important, because a decade ago, the first proposal was for 3.6 miles offshore,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “This will now be very far offshore and not be a visual concern. It’s important because we are in critical need of making the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”

But the proposal has sparked the ire of those who claim that wind turbines in that area, known as the New York Bite, would negatively impact the commercial fishing industry. “The problem … is that it was an unsolicited bid — the power companies are coming out and saying we want this area without having talked to anyone prior to the selection,” said Drew Minkiewicz, a spokesman for the Fisheries Survival Fund, which opposes the construction of turbines in that area. “It’s a highly productive fishing area, including scallops. … We harvest over $5 million [worth] every year, on average.”

The announcement by the BOEM comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed plans for a liquefied natural gas terminal roughly 16 nautical miles off Jones Beach in December, citing environmental concerns and saying that the terminal would conflict with the potential site of a wind farm. Officials said that an offshore wind power source is in keeping with Cuomo’s goal of generating 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources by 2030.

“The announcement today from BOEM is an important step to moving offshore wind forward for New York,” Lisa Dix, senior New York representative for the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Governor Cuomo demonstrated real climate leadership by vetoing the dangerous and dirty Port Ambrose LNG terminal proposal that was in direct conflict with clean, renewable offshore wind. The governor should continue to build on his climate and renewable energy legacy, and work with the federal government and New York City to act this year to harness the massive clean, renewable, job-creating offshore wind energy right off New York’s shores.”

It could be a decade before any wind turbines are built, however, thanks to a lengthy review and approval process, including a series of public hearings.

“Although the length of time varies for each specific project, from start to finish it can take about 10 years to complete the planning, leasing and site-assessment phases and to conduct the required environmental consultations and environmental review,” said Tracey Blythe Moriarty, a BOEM spokeswoman. “Turbines would only be constructed after the necessary regulatory and environmental review steps are completed, and if a [construction and operations plan] is approved by BOEM.”

In 2011, the New York Power Authority submitted an application for a commercial wind lease. At the time, NYPA proposed installing up to 194 wind turbines in that area, each generating 3.6 megawatts of wind energy that would contribute to the creation of up to 700 megawatts of power for Long Island and the metropolitan area.

Next steps

Now that the site has been selected, the BOEM will conduct an environmental assessment to determine the potential impact of issuing a lease, Moriarty said.

NYPA would still be permitted to participate in a competitive bidding process, she said, adding that other developers have expressed interest since BOEM issued a Request for Interest and other notices beginning in 2013. The agency also held numerous “stakeholder meetings” and worked with its New York Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force to gather data and information about the area.

“They’re not arbitrarily picking a spot,” said Long Beach resident and environmentalist Scott Bochner, who sits on the city’s Environmental Advisory Board. “There’s a lot of data that has been collected.”

A developer would have 12 months to submit a site assessment plan for review and approval. It would then have four and a half years to submit a construction and operations plan, which would include, among other details, the size and layout of the turbines. The BOEM would also conduct an environmental review.

“Our community must work together to protect our beautiful coastline and lower energy costs for consumers,” said State Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who is running for State Senate in a special election next month. “Long Island must have a clean energy future that includes more renewable sources and less fossil fuels — and wind energy can certainly be a part of it. I look forward to seeing the full details of this proposal and working with the community to decide if it’s right for the barrier island.”

Offshore wind development is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which is aimed at creating jobs, developing domestic clean-energy sources and reducing carbon pollution. BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said last year that helping New York develop offshore wind projects was a top priority, according to the Albany Times Union.

Bochner pointed out a project that is currently underway in Providence, R.I., the Block Island Wind Farm — the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., which is expected to reduce air pollution across southern New England while also creating hundreds of jobs and reducing electricity rates.

“Renewable energy — that’s what we need,” Bochner said. “This fossil fuel thing has got to go, and we’re so behind in this country on renewables that it’s pathetic.”

But others, including environmentalist and longtime lifeguard Ray Ellmer, raised concerns about interference with shipping lanes and the potential to disturb a sea floor where thousands of tons of garbage was dumped by New York City barges in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

“I think that New York state is missing the boat by not placing the wind farms on top of landfills,” Ellmer said, “because it’s cheaper and it would be less detrimental to the ocean-floor environment.”

“We certainly support renewable energy, and we are excited about the prospect of the federal government designating our area for potential wind energy development,” said City Council Vice President Anthony Eramo. “We look forward to reviewing the findings of the forthcoming environmental assessment, along with hearing input from our residents to determine its impact, if any, on the surrounding habitat and our community.”