UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Great Week For Ocean Energy

White House Says Yes to Offshore Wind Power, No to Drilling in the Atlantic

No to offshore drilling, yes to sustainable offshore wind! The news from the White House about ocean energy development just keeps getting better this week. Yesterday, the Obama administration wisely withdrew its plan for offshore oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast, protecting our Atlantic waters and marine wildlife from the harmful impacts and risks of fossil-fuel drilling. As NRDC’s President Rhea Suh has said, this is “a victory for this great ocean and all it sustains.”

By designating a new federal Wind Energy Area in waters off Long Island’s South Shore (depicted here in this Bureau of Ocean Energy Management map), the U.S. Department of the Interior and BOEM have taken a crucial step in bringing pollution-free offshore wind power to the New York metropolitan area. (Map courtesy of BOEM)

The news is equally bright today, as the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management took an important step toward the goal of developing sustainable offshore wind power off the coast of New York, by designating an official “Wind Energy Area” eleven nautical miles off Long Beach on Long Island’s South Shore. This designation will pave the way for BOEM to hold an auction for the right to lease this area for offshore wind development by the end of the year. So there’s a beautiful symmetry to this week’s announcements: a prohibition on dangerous fossil fuel extraction from the Atlantic and encouragement for the development of sustainable, zero-carbon offshore wind power for the most heavily populated region of the Atlantic. Kudos to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and BOEM Director Abby Hopper for leading us forward toward clean marine energy.

This Wind Energy Area is a designated zone for potential offshore wind power development that reflects the input of New York State and other stakeholders. Over the last eight years, BOEM has designated nine Wind Energy Areas off the coast of seven Atlantic states: Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

This Wind Energy Area designation is a crucial step in a deliberative and thoughtful process toward bringing offshore wind to New York. Two New York public power authorities and an investor-owned utility — the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority, and Con Edison — working together, have already expressed interest in moving forward with a 350–700 megawatt offshore wind project there that could power between 112,000 and 224,000 homes. Several private offshore wind developers have also indicated interest.

Sited responsibly, offshore wind power has much to offer us all. Because it produces the most electricity when it’s needed most — on hot summer afternoons and bitter cold winter days and nights — it can help ensure the reliability of New York’s overstressed electric grid. And it can save consumers money on electric costs by reducing the need to bring online the most expensive and the most polluting “peaker” power plants.

Offshore wind power has the potential to improve public health, too, by reducing the need for conventional and peaker power plants that release dangerous pollution into our air, often into some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods. Offshore wind power can also be a great job creator and economy booster. In fact, researchers at SUNY Stonybrook project that a single, 250-megawatt offshore wind power development off Long Island’s South Shore could create 2,800 full-time jobs and add $645 million to the local economy.

In Europe, offshore wind power has already demonstrated how successful it can be, with more than 11,000 megawatts installed at 84 offshore wind power projects in 11 countries. That’s enough to power almost 8 million homes. Here in the U.S., the fundamentals for the long-stalled U.S. offshore wind industry are now coming together, with states up and down the Atlantic coast recognizing the economic benefits of offshore wind, with costs coming down, and, with major, well-financed U.S. and European offshore wind developers vying for the rights to develop projects. The first U.S. offshore wind project, a 30-megawatt Rhode Island project sited off Block Island, is under construction and will be operational by the end of this year.

Importantly, there will be extensive planning and preliminary siting work before a specific offshore wind project is proposed, and any proposed project will go through a thorough environmental review process under the federal National Environmental Policy Act. Projects will also go through a comprehensive federal and state permitting process to ensure they are consistent with protection of marine ecosystems and minimize any conflicts. To protect the North Atlantic right whale, one of the world’s most endangered creatures, for instance, NRDC and other environmental allies and stakeholders have been hard at work developing mitigation measures that would begin during the earliest stages of offshore wind power development.

Governor Cuomo set the stage for today’s designation by, late last year, vetoing the Port Ambrose offshore liquified natural gas terminal, citing the conflict with the proposed offshore wind area among his reasons.

Now we need the State of New York to seize the moment and the opportunity to move forward with offshore wind as an important part of its portfolio of clean energy resources — resources that include energy efficiency, land-based wind, solar power, and other renewable technologies. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been a leader on renewable energy, directing the state’s Public Service Commission to adopt a “50 percent by 2030” renewable energy requirement last year. Similarly, late last year, the governor helped set the stage for today’s Wind Energy Area designation by vetoing the Port Ambrose offshore liquefied natural gas terminal that would have blocked wind power development in the area, citing the conflict with the proposed offshore wind area among reasons for his veto. He now has the opportunity to further promote offshore wind power’s many advantages by directing the state to move forward with responsible offshore wind development in the new Wind Energy Area, ensuring that offshore wind is given its due in the state’s Clean Energy Standard proceeding, and announcing his vision for scaling up offshore wind in New York State.

New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio can also play a role. The mayor has already announced a commitment to get 100 percent of the electricity that city government uses — $600–650 million-worth — from renewable sources. We encourage him to make that commitment a reality and to ensure that offshore wind power plays a key role. A wide array of New Yorkers already share a great enthusiasm for the mayor’s commitment and for offshore wind: Witness the rally on the steps of New York City’s City Hall last month that drew more than 100 offshore wind power supporters, despite the freezing temperatures.

Offshore wind power has so much to offer us all — less global warming, cleaner air, lower energy bills, a more reliable electric grid, and good jobs galore.

The Obama administration did the right thing this week by prioritizing clean ocean energy development, both by excluding the waters off the Atlantic coast from oil and gas drilling and with the designation of a Wind Energy Area off Long Island’s South Shore. Today’s announcement is a crucial step in the process of offshore wind power development in the Empire State. Now that we have the framework in place, we need New York State and New York City to work together with the federal government to take action to make offshore wind a reality for New Yorkers.