New York: capitalising on wind power20 April 2018
New York is positioning itself to be the US capital of wind power. Andrew Tunnicliffe examines its difficult history, and looks forward to what might lie ahead.
In October 2017, New York played host to the AWEA Offshore WINDPOWER 2017 Conference, bringing together some of the industry’s leading lights, including legislators, industry representatives and business leaders from around the world.
Among the 1,000 or so in attendance were: Kathy Hochul, lieutenant governor of New York; Lars Christian Lilleholt, Denmark’s minister of energy, utilities and climate; Dr Timothy Unruh, deputy assistant secretary for renewable power at the US Department of Energy; and Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the AWEA.
The event was the tenth of its kind, having been first held in 2008. It boasted what the organisers termed a “top notch” networking event, supported by a “timely and relevant” education programme that included an update from those involved with the ongoing development of the 90MW wind farm project of the city’s coast.
Speaking during the event, Hochul told visitors she believed New York had the potential to lead the way in global wind power. “New York intends to be the preeminent global hub for the next generation of the wind industry.” She continued with her address, detailing a plan to develop 2.4GW of offshore wind power.
“Offshore wind is essential to meet New York’s ambitious energy goal,” she said, adding that the project would help create thousands of jobs. “We’re making unprecedented investments in infrastructure and laying the groundwork for the offshore wind industry, which is primed to benefit from New York’s talented, ambitious workforce. The economic and environmental benefits offshore wind will provide is a win-win for all New Yorkers.”
Hochul also took aim at US President Donald Tump and his much-criticised decision to withdraw the country from the Paris Climate Accord, saying the state was committed to tackling climate change despite what was happening in the country’s capital. Her statements were warmly received, particularly as she spoke of the operational wind turbines in the state already.
Coming to the end of her address, she revealed state officials had been working on an offshore wind master plan. “New York is accepting the challenge, but doing the legwork for you,” she concluded.
The news is good for the state as it continues to push its renewable energy ambitions. The state government’s enthusiastic approach to renewables is matched by that of the private sector. Earlier this year, the Long Island Power Authority gave its approval for the US’s largest offshore wind farm. The facility, to be developed by Deepwater Wind, would be home to as many as 15 turbines across its 256-square-mile spread, with capacity for a further 200 turbines later.
Speaking at the time to an audience of jubilant onlookers, the authority’s chief executive, John D McMahon, said the project wouldn’t be the first for the state, as it strives to meet Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious target of generating half its consumed power from renewable technologies by the end of the next decade.
However, although state lawmakers have been determined in their efforts to make New York a hub for renewable energy, there has been opposition from residents and some in the business sector. Among the concerns has been the impact large-scale wind farms would have on sea views and fishing.
Deepwater has come under increasing pressure from the fishing community. In an effort to address those fears, senior representatives from Deepwater addressed a packed town hall meeting in East Hampton. The company’s president, Chris van Beek, and vice-president, Clint Plummer, spoke with residents after hearing their concerns. Among the hot topics were fishing, as well as the damage the farm’s construction and operation might have to sea life in the region.
Both men insisted the impact would be negligible, not impeding fishing areas through restricted access, nor as a result of the installation of turbines or seabed cabling. The company has experience in the field, having constructed Block Island Wind Farm in the face of similar opposition. Speaking to the audience about fishing stock and their previous experience, Van Beek said, “So far, it’s the conclusion that the fish habitat is as good as it was, or perhaps a little bit better.”
However, the meeting continued in a heated manner, with attendees continuing to grill the men on the impact that they believe the project will have on the community. Deepwater has, however, attempted to incentivise the local community with financial gains and the promise of local work. It has committed to $600,000 as part of the establishment of a fisheries habitat and marine environment improvement, with a further $200,000 offered as part of an energy sustainability and resiliency fund.
The Cape Wind project, which was going to be situated off Cape Cod at Horseshoe Shoal, suffered what some called “death by a thousand cuts”, having been opposed by numerous parties, including Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy who argued it would have been detrimental to his enjoyment of the ocean.
Planning for the project began in 2001, when Cape Wind’s president Jim Gordon said he wanted the 25-squaremile project, which boasted 130 wind turbines, to ultimately provide power to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Following years of hold-ups and failed contracts, Gordon informed the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management he was withdrawing its offshore lease it had held for seven years.
Casting a wide net
Despite the seeming gloom surrounding offshore renewable, the Cape Wind project doesn’t appear to be symptomatic of a wider lack of enthusiasm for offshore projects. In 2009, following authorisation through the Energy Policy Act 2005, the Department of the Interior announced it had determined the regulatory parameters under which the Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Program could operate. The programme, to be administered by the Bureau of Energy Management, would oversee proposed developments off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in the Gulf of Mexico.
The North Atlantic Planning Area, which stretches along the Atlantic coast north of Delaware to Maine, has garnered particular interest from the renewables sector and is now gaining political support across much of the area.
Following a 33-round auction, the New York lease area was finally awarded to Statoil Wind US at the end of 2016 with the lease coming in mid-March 2017. Speaking at WINDPOWER, the company said the project had been titled ‘Empire Wind’. The company’s Empire Wind project director, Christer af Geijerstam, said, “The name Empire Wind captures the pivotal role that this important project will play in helping New York achieve its ambitious renewable energy goal.” He said the project’s name “also speaks to the leading role that New York state is taking in advancing the deployment of offshore wind technology in North America”. The 124-square-mile project could produce up to 1GW of power once operational, although much has still to be done, with the project only now in its assessment and planning stage.
Dong Energy, now Ørsted, is also showing its interest in the region, itself securing leases. The Danish company has been a long-time supporter of renewable green and appears to be moving towards obtaining a strong foothold in the region. For the first time, 2016 saw offshore wind accounting for the single biggest business operation for the company.
It currently has two US wind farms in development: Bay State Wind and Ocean Wind. Both are situated in the North Atlantic Planning Area. Bay State Wind is located 15–25 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and will have capacity to produce 200MW once completed. Ocean Wind will produce 1,000MW and is situated off the Atlantic City coast.
What lies ahead?
The future potential for wind energy is clear for the US, particularly in the north-east. According to OilPrice.com, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island authorities believe the sector could help create up to 16,000 jobs via direct employment, and support a further 20,000 jobs in other industry sectors by 2030. They also say the renewable resource could well produce as much as 8GW annually, enough to power four million households.
Those views were supported by a statement issued from Governor Cuomo’s office on the announcement of approval for Deepwater earlier in the 2018. He said, “This project will not only provide a new, reliable source of clean energy, but will also create high-paying jobs, continue our efforts to combat climate change and help preserve our environment.”
Deepwater’s chief executive, Jeffrey Grybowski, said, “We think that thousands of megawatts are going to be built off the coast of the US in the coming decades. It’s an enormous clean energy resource. It’s easy for us to tap into it, but we need projects to get from essentially one project to these thousands of megawatts.”
Because of that, other states are known to be looking into wind farm development. AWEA’s Kiernan said, “You can feel the urgency to harness this new ocean energy resource coming from states and businesses competing to be first movers.” He went on to say that unlocking the country’s vast offshore wind potential will “reliably deliver large amounts of clean power, grow jobs and cement US energy dominance”.
It seems New York is making a concerted effort to harness the energy of offshore wind, with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority announcing it has identified more than a million acres of sea for development. The sites are situated off the coast of Long Island. The authority, perhaps mindful of previous opposition, has carried out an extensive consultation process involving the fishing industry and other interested parties. It has registered its recommendations with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
The authority’s chief executive Alicia Barton said, “The pool of eligible bid facilities represents a pipeline of renewable energy projects that could generate more than 9.5 million megawatt hours a year – more than six times the quantity sought under the solicitation. This robust developer interest in New York is exciting to see, and we expect that this level of competition will drive very attractive prices when the bids come in.”
New York’s ambition to lead the way in offshore wind may very well come to fruition, with what now seems to be a meaningful push to establish the region as a known supporter of this type of energy production. However, the challenges that have beset the sector in recent years remain, albeit now with an understanding from political leaders and businesses that while the technology is hugely appealing, it has to be accountable to those it’s hoping to serve.