N.Y. looks to Europe offshore wind for its Green New Deal

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, August 9, 2019

New York is studying Europe’s playbook for developing offshore wind, but some lessons may get lost in translation as the Empire State pursues some of the largest wind projects planned in U.S. waters, according to a report yesterday from the New York Power Authority.

Offshore Wind — A European Perspective” identifies what four European countries responsible for most of the continent’s offshore wind power — Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom — have done to successfully site, develop and connect power from offshore turbines to customers on shore.

It comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) promotes the industry as a key branch in one of the most ambitious green agendas in the country: to reach 70% renewable power by 2030 and wipe out carbon emissions from the state’s energy sector by 2040.

Over the next 10 years, the four countries cited in the analysis are expected to nearly quadruple their installed wind capacity from approximately 18 to 70 gigawatts. By contrast, the first and only offshore wind farm in the United States — a pilot project of 30 megawatts — started churning power off the coast of Rhode Island in 2016.

Despite America’s comparatively slow start, state policymakers in the U.S. Northeast have been encouraged by the Block Island Wind Farm’s success and have set goals to add a combined 20 GW of offshore wind power as part of wider efforts to combat climate change.

Unlike Europe, which took decades to grow its industry, the United States will have to learn rapidly and at scale, said Sylvia Louie, senior business development manager at the New York Power Authority, who worked on the report.

“We are not going to be doing 400-MW projects. We are starting at 800 MW,” she said. “These are large injections into our grid.”

New York alone accounts for nearly half of the total U.S. commitments to offshore wind, with a 9 GW goal.

Last month, New York chose two European power firms to meet the first phase of its offshore wind goals. Sunrise Wind will build an 880-MW project 30 miles off the coast of Long Island, and Empire Wind will develop an 816-MW project 14 miles from Manhattan that will feed into New York City.

“As New York gears up for the rapid development of offshore wind under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, having a better understanding of Europe’s already-thriving industry will provide key insights as we look to build a skilled workforce and develop our ports,” said Thomas Falcone, CEO of the Long Island Power Authority, in a statement on the report yesterday.

‘Tricky issues’

European countries have used various techniques to boost offshore operators and drive down costs, from Denmark, which was an industry pioneer, to the Netherlands, which has proposed an offshore wind island that would be capable of generating more power than the country needs.

Both countries fostered competitive markets to lower costs — a common thread in all the case studies covered in the NYPA report.

“As each country progressed through development, and as the market competition increased, all countries switched to more competitive tenders and [power purchase agreements] in order to encourage more competition,” the report said.

Other lessons were less uniform across countries. Two different styles of organizing the grid, for example, have been employed with mixed results.

Germany is the only country of the four to have built an offshore network that connects multiple projects. That strategy can help in scaling up development, the report found, but retaining individual links to the bulk power grid remains “simpler, easier to plan, size, and execute on a project-by-project basis.”

Louie said New York faces multiple hurdles for effectively moving power.

“We have limited interconnections, limited places where we can plug in” offshore power, she said.

Onshore infrastructure has other setbacks — the grid isn’t really designed to swing power from the shoreline to demand farther inland, she said.

“They are both very tricky issues, but they both need to be coordinated together, and that is a challenge,” Louie said.

The report highlighted the importance of long-term strategies to reduce stress on the grid, noting that none of the countries studied had grids that were originally designed to absorb large amounts of offshore wind power.

“This is a really good report to get a sense of the different systems and different type of transmission designs that Europe has done,” Louie said. “We also need to keep that in mind that what works for them may look really good, but you try to put it in a U.S. context and there is a lot of things we’d have to consider.”

The report has landed at an optimistic time for offshore wind developers, with new contract awards being doled out for large projects in New York and New Jersey.

But some news has been less encouraging for the fledgling U.S. industry. Vineyard Wind LLC’s proposal to add wind turbines off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard has been mired in controversies over fishing impacts, raising the specter of prior wind proposals in the Northeast that faltered due to delays and high costs.

Potentially the first offshore wind farm of commercial scale, Vineyard had expected to complete a key environmental review by mid-July, but internal disagreements among federal agencies tasked with overseeing the 800-MW project have postponed its release. While financial incentives for the offshore wind industry have largely been driven by state policies, the federal government controls access to U.S. waters.

Vineyard Wind’s developers and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) have turned to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to request a solution to the delay (Climatewire, Aug. 7).