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New Plan Maps Out Prime Locations for Offshore Wind in NY

NRDC Expert Blog by Kaitlin Brazill

New York is another step closer to realizing its important goal of achieving 2400 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind by 2030. New York State’s energy research agency, known as NYSERDA, along with other key New York State agencies and authorities, has just released its new Offshore Wind Master Plan. This Plan will provide a blue print for how New York will meet Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to support the development of 2400 MW of offshore wind by 2030—enough to power 1.2 million homes and eliminate over 5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually from the power sector.

The Master Plan’s specific objectives are to 1) identify areas for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to consider for the development of offshore wind in the state of New York, 2) recommend measures for implementation to mitigate potential impacts, and 3) offer ways to purchase offshore wind energy to ensure low costs to ratepayers. My colleague Kit Kennedy provides an overview of the Master Plan and describes why it is significant here. This blog will focus on the first goal of the plan and provide an update on where things stand on New York offshore wind siting.

The plan identifies two places off the coast of Long Island—not visible from land—that are best suited to develop offshore wind farms that will provide clean, renewable power to New York residents. While the Trump administration is fighting to open the Atlantic Ocean to offshore oil drilling—putting the East Coast at risk of a BP-style disaster—the Master Plan provides a path forward for a better future.

The federal government and the states play different roles in developing offshore wind which can cause conflicts, but New York has a unique approach to overcome this problem. Offshore wind development in the U.S. will likely require two separate actions, which occur completely independent of each other. The first takes place at the federal level and requires the developer to win a site lease. This lease gives the developer a location offshore, in federal waters, where their project can be developed. The second, a state level action, requires the developer to secure a power purchase agreement, ensuring a buyer for the energy generated once their project is operational. Acquiring a lease before securing a power purchase agreement creates significant financial risk for developers and in turn, reduces overall project efficiency. The Master Plan is the State’s attempt to bridge these two processes, offering BOEM ways to approach offshore wind development that improve certainty and reduce costs – giving full consideration to the environmental, social, and maritime issues, and ultimately providing what it has identified as the best potential offshore wind sites.

NYSERDA first unveiled the State’s perspective on site identification and leasing for future wind energy areas in October. At that time, NYSERDA provided a summary of the information found during the State’s extensive study process, described below, and identified the offshore areas that, according to the best available data, look to be the most promising for responsible offshore wind development, with the fewest potential conflicts. Specifically, NYSERDA identified an area in the Atlantic Ocean, south of Long Island, that it believes BOEM should focus on as it begins the federal process for site selection. These two swaths of ocean, identified by NYSERDA, make up what they call the “Area for Consideration”. The State requested that BOEM use this information as part of its analysis and that they quickly identify and lease four separate wind energy areas (WEA) from within the Area for Consideration.

NYSERDA Area for Consideration

NYSERDA's recommended Area for Consideration (taken from NYSERDA website)

Areas for Consideration

The State used a multi-layered approach to determine its Area for Consideration. The selection process began with identifying any pre-existing basic constraints to development, such as water depth and distance from shore, shipping routes and any Department of Defense precluded areas. This resulted in the identification of four zones deemed feasible for siting. These zones then underwent an additional, more rigorous process, in which over twenty topical studies were conducted to assess the relative potential environmental, social, and economic risks associated with offshore wind development. The topical studies included Environmental Sensitivity, Fish and Fisheries, Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles, and Projected Project Cost—to name a few. Once these additional studies were completed, the State delineated exactly which areas it felt posed the fewest potential conflicts while holding the most promise for development and supporting the growth of this new industry. These ideal areas for offshore shore wind sites were presented to BOEM as the State’s recommended Areas for Consideration.

The Area for Consideration, was ultimately comprised of two separate stretches of water located south of Long Island. The East Area is situated 26.5 miles from land and the West Area is 21.1 miles from land. Together, these areas total 1,0161,802 acres—more than enough space to meet New York State’s goal of 2,400 MW of offshore wind by 2030. NYSERDA recommends that BOEM further narrow down this area, identifying four separate WEAs to be leased to developers, each capable of producing 800 MW of power. Leasing multiple WEAs at once would allow for multiple developers to compete for a power purchase agreement, driving down rate-payer costs. For illustrative purposes, NYSERDA provided BOEM with sample configurations of how these WEAs could be arranged.

Federal Leasing Process

Any future wind energy area sited off the coast of Long Island will be supplying power to the state of New York but will be located in what are technically federal waters—which is why site identification and leasing fall within BOEM’s jurisdiction. BOEM is now at the very beginning stages of their federal process for delineating a Call Area (a large area of water from which smaller wind energy areas will be selected). They are conducting their own studies and assessments before ultimately selecting areas for lease—and are not obligated to adopt the State’s siting recommendations. The State has done a tremendous job of taking responsible steps towards working with the federal government for optimal offshore wind siting in New York. Initial feedback indicates that BOEM has, to some degree, disregarded the State’s recommended Area for Consideration—expanding the Call Area to well beyond what was put forth by NYSERDA. BOEM will be releasing the final Call Area in the upcoming months—we will wait to see what they ultimately decide to do with the State’s important planning recommendations. But although BOEM has direct authority over offshore wind siting, there is still much that New York can do to influence and incent developers and encourage projects in the right areas. Governor Cuomo recently announced plans to procure 800 MW of new capacity through solicitations by 2019. New York State can and should condition its offshore wind contracts to reflect the Offshore Wind Master plan, by awarding power purchase contracts based on factors that include whether projects are located in the most promising locations and commit to sound environmental best management practices to protect endangered species such as the North Atlantic Right Whale. The Offshore Wind Master Plan puts New York on the right path for offshore wind. This type of ambitious and thoughtful state leadership is what makes New York a national climate and clean energy leader.

Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council's expert blogs.

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