Biden admin clears way for N.Y. offshore wind leases

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News • Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2021

A wind turbine — part of a two-turbine pilot project — spins off the coast of Virginia. Francis Chung/E&E News

The Biden administration has found that huge arrays of offshore wind turbines off the coast of New York and New Jersey won’t cause significant impacts to the local environment, clearing the way for highly anticipated lease sales.

Issued by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management today, the finding moves the New York Bight closer to being auctioned off to offshore wind developers — a sale that would be the first under President Biden.

Over 7 gigawatts of electricity could be produced in the New York Bight, enough for about 2.6 million homes, according to Interior. That’s close to one-fourth of the offshore wind power that Biden wants to develop across the country by 2030, making it a priority area for the administration.

The wind power would also feed into dense, fossil-fuel-reliant cities located in two states that are hungry for carbon-free electricity to meet their own net-zero goals.

In its finding, BOEM said that selling off as many as 10 commercial and research leases to wind developers in the New York Bight would result in “no significant impacts” to the environment, at least during the phase where developers carry out preconstruction surveys and testing in the lease areas.

“The completion of this Environmental Assessment is an important step forward in advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of increasing renewable energy development on federal lands and waters,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton.

The review found that impacts on commercial and recreational fishing would be “negligible to minor” and that communication between turbine developers and fishing interests could “greatly reduce the potential for conflict” during early-stage activities.

The fishing industry has been a fierce and recurring source of opposition for East Coast offshore wind projects. That includes people who own recreational fishing businesses, some of whom voiced fears that offshore wind would threaten their livelihoods in a virtual meeting with BOEM officials this month (Greenwire, Dec. 7).

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, the fishing industry’s chief voice in disputes over offshore wind, did not immediately comment on the BOEM review.

If BOEM were to begin leasing areas in the New York Bight, each offshore wind project would need to undergo a specific environmental analysis before being built.

But today’s finding lifts the final environmental barrier to the lease sale.

National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito recalled the last offshore wind lease sale held by Interior, back in 2018, which netted $405 million worth of bids off the coast of Massachusetts, far exceeding expectations at the time.

Interior’s finding “means that two coastal states with massive populations and large economies are a step closer to new energy and economic opportunities,” Milito said.