Six months after New York State issued a “blueprint” showing where it wants offshore wind farms placed in the ocean just south of Long Island, the federal agency that controls those swaths of sea floor has said it is still considering a much broader area for wind farm development—including some areas directly south of the South Fork.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a federal agency that works within the U.S. Department of the Interior, put out a call this week to gauge interest among wind farm developers in four stretches of the ocean between New Jersey and Montauk that the state had determined, following a year-long analysis, would not be ideal for turbine construction.
The federal call—essentially, an inquiry to gauge the level of interest—asks those who would invest billions to develop offshore wind farms which portions of the ocean off Long Island they would like to be able to erect turbines in, from a development logistics perspective. The federal inquiry will also solicit input on those areas from other interested parties, including fishermen and the general public.
The state had taken a different approach last year when it looked at largely the same areas of the Atlantic, going first to the public—and commercial fishermen in particular—to determine where the least disruptive areas to install hundreds of 600-foot-tall turbines would be.
Last fall, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, released its report, identifying about 1 million acres of sea floor, divided into two areas on either side of the main shipping lanes to New York Harbor, that it said would be the best place to put the turbines. The easternmost boundary of the areas identified by NYSERDA extended only to about 20 miles south of the Southampton-Brookhaven town line.
The state gave its blueprint to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, and asked that the federal agency create lease areas—in addition to the 80,000 acres that have already been leased—within those two regions to accommodate up to 400 turbines that could pump electricity to New York City and western Long Island.
The federal call, however, goes back to the entire map of sea floor that NYSERDA had started with—divided into four regions, each starting about 15 miles offshore of Long Island and extending out to where the ocean floor slopes past the maximum in which turbines could be erected. It includes a much larger stretch of ocean off the South Fork.
“We continue to believe that the area we identified provides the best balance in lease areas, and we continue to believe the areas we identified will be the ones ultimately used,” said Doreeen Harris, director of NYSERDA’s large scale renewable energy development program, earlier this winter. “We asked them to lease four plots in the two areas that we identified, which is only a fraction of the area we considered.”
But any federal leases of sea floor offered could be bought by companies with interests in feeding power to states other than New York as well. New Jersey recently announced it would be seeking to purchase 3.5 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind farms by 2030, and with the lease areas identified by NYSERDA extending as close as 20 miles from New Jersey’s coastline, it is likely that there will be demand for more lease areas than those New York has requested.
“Many of the factors used to delineate New York’s Area for Consideration were informed by a series of draft studies, which the State of New York finalized and published after it issued its recommendations,” the federal agency said in its introduction of the proposal to do the new exploration. “BOEM believes the final studies should be evaluated prior to modifying the initial areas identified by New York. This call will allow additional stakeholders, including other potentially affected states, to provide input on these areas prior to further modification during the area identification process.”
Just days before the New York Bight call was issued, standing in front of map showing more than a dozen proposed offshore wind farms that total some 800 potential turbines between Massachusetts and Virginia, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke declared the Trump administration’s support for the aggressive development of offshore wind—despite the administration’s official dedication to boosting coal and oil production, and President Donald Trump’s very public criticisms of offshore wind turbines near a golf course he owns in Scotland.
In its blueprint, NYSERDA had wholly excluded the region of sea floor directly south of the South Fork, largely on the concerns of commercial fishermen that placing turbines in that area would be especially disruptive to the small boats from Long Island and southern New England that ply the area for squid and sea scallops.
That area, referred to on maps as Fairways North, extends from approximately south of Hampton Bays to Montauk, starting about 15 miles offshore.
The South Fork Wind Farm, the proposed 15-turbine project that is currently being planned southeast of Block Island, would bring power ashore in East Hampton to feed the South Fork. The company that has proposed that project, Deepwater Wind, had previously pitched a proposal for a much larger project that would have fed enough power to shore in Hampton Bays, where it could be connected to substations serving a much larger area.
Any 600-foot-tall turbines constructed 15 miles offshore would be visible from shore, much as the Block Island Wind Farm’s five turbines can be seen from Montauk Point, about 15 miles away, on a clear day. And fishermen have raised concerns that turbines erected through their fishing areas could pose a safety hazard to boats towing nets more than 1,000 feet behind their boats that are limited in their maneuverability.
During the already year-long debate over Deepwater Wind’s proposal, fishermen have blasted the project but noted that their real concern is that it is only the first drop in what could soon be a very large bucket.
“I think BOEM is basically deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to commercial fishing,” said Bonnie Brady, a Montauk resident who heads the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and has been among the most strident and vocal critics of offshore wind farm projects. “I believe the Secretary of the Interior is being lied to regarding the compatibility of commercial fishing with offshore wind. They are not compatible—they are contrary to each other.”
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