Federal gov’t stalling offshore wind farms

Madeline Armstrong

The final leasing grounds for offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean south of Long Island were supposed to have been designated in early 2019 so lease auctions could be held, but nearly two years later, they have not yet been assigned, slowing New York’s bid to acquire 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Assignment of New York Bight Offshore Wind Energy Areas, located between Long Island and New Jersey, has been indefinitely postponed without explanation, angering local elected leaders like U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Garden City and a wind energy proponent.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the Department of the Interior, oversees assignment of offshore wind leasing grounds. Rice, who represents the 4th Congressional District, covering a wide swath of Nassau County’s South Shore, recently wrote to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt to express her outrage that designation of the WEAs continued to be delayed.

She was joined by other elected leaders, including Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove who represents the 3rdCongressional District, and who was formerly Nassau’s county executive, as well as Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the 10thDistrict and Rep. Tom Reed of the 23rd District.

The representatives asked that the BOEM assign the WEAs so lease auctions could be held. To date, they have not received a response from either the BOEM or the DOI.

That has local environmental advocates concerned and dismayed, as offshore wind does not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere the way fossil fuel power plants that burn oil, natural gas and coal do, and so wind energy is not a cause of climate change, the slow heating of the Earth over time. Global warming is considered a particular threat to Long Island because it causes sea levels to rise and hurricanes to grow bigger.

“If we’re really going to fight climate change and transition to renewable energy, offshore wind has to play a key role,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “It is not a luxury item. It is a necessity.”

Esposito said she supports Rice’s letter. “We really need a congressional representative to get involved, take action and support wind farms,” Esposito said.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, a state agency that promotes energy efficiency and renewable power, is also calling on BOEM to designate the final WEAs. “Our progress in catalyzing this game-changing industry is limited without additional lease areas in the New York Bight — a needed solution only BOEM has the authority to execute,” read a NYSERDA statement. “We urge BOEM to issue final Wind Energy Areas for the New York Bight.”

When contacted, BOEM gave the following statement: “BOEM continues to work with our government agencies and our stakeholders to assess how future offshore wind development could affect other ocean uses with the goal of reducing potential conflicts.”

The BOEM said it was assessing possible conflicts, but it did not specify what they might be.

Esposito said she believes the federal government is stalling the assignment process to assist the oil and gas industries.President Trump “has been clear he does not support wind,” she said, “and wants to continue advancing the exploration and development of oil and guess industries.”

Rice said Trump has never supported wind farms and has worked to stall other renewable energy projects in New York.

In July 2019, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, legally requiring New York to obtain 70 percent of its energy supply from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal.

According to Joe Martens, director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, a coalition of advocacy groups that support wind power, 27 percent of New York’s energy currently comes from renewable sources.

“We have a long way to go in 10 years,” said Martens, “and offshore wind is one of the ways that we can make the transition.”

There are currently three projects proposed in the New York Bight, two of which — Sunrise Wind and Empire Wind — have begun the regulatory review and permitting processes, and have the potential to power hundreds of thousands of homes and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions, for the local economy.

“As New York continues to build back its economy from the [Covid-19] pandemic,” read a NYSERDA statement, “offshore wind provides a massive opportunity to stimulate billions of dollars in investments and create thousands of family-sustaining jobs.”

The New York Bight wind farms would create about 32,000 jobs annually, Martens said.

“I think this is a great opportunity for a whole new generation of workers,” said Roger Clayman, executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor. “Our labor movement was not always environmentally sensitive, but the fact is we’re all on the front lines of climate change.”

When the Wind Energy Areas might be designated is unclear. “I don’t know if anybody could [know] unless they had a crystal ball,” Esposito said.

Martens said that 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy will need to be generated by 2030 to help New York reach its goal of 70 percent renewable energy by that year.

Development of a single wind farm takes years. That is why it is crucial, the experts said, to designate the WEAs so leases can be assigned, and the years-long regulatory review process and construction can begin.

“I will openly concede that it will be a challenge,” Martens said, “but in New York anyways, we’re required to do it.”

Esposito urged Long Islanders to “speak up and speak out in favor of wind energy.”

“Having a voice matters,” she said, “and we can’t stay silent and hope that things change.”

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