N.Y. study provides technical backbone for future projects

Source: Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 15, 2013

NEW YORK — State officials in Albany yesterday released their most comprehensive study of offshore wind potential to date in an attempt to shape where future projects are placed.

The 154-page technical analysis from the Department of State is the result of two years of work on the marine wildlife, biology, culture and economic potential. In all, the study covers more than 16,000 square miles of state and federal waters.

The state has jurisdiction out to 3 miles from its coast but also has a say in federal waters between 3 and 200 miles out. The potential for wind development is vast, but so are the complicating factors: The Port of New York and New Jersey, the third largest in the United States, handles more than $175 billion in cargo a year; fishing, seafood and recreation account for $11.5 billion in annual economic activity; and the region is a target for hurricanes.

With all that in mind, in addition to how climate change might unsettle infrastructure, the wind report — called the “Offshore Atlantic Ocean Study” — focuses largely on the technical nitty-gritty of future decisions as a way to inform policymakers. It makes no project recommendations.

Instead, it includes dozens of maps on topics such as ocean geography, historic storm paths and hot spots for endangered species. It also details the region’s underwater infrastructure out to the edge of the outer continental shelf (OCS) with a graphic on locations of submarine cables, research buoys, fiber optics, power lines and pipelines.

Among the projects this sort of background might help to advance is the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project, a proposed development zone 11 nautical miles to the south of Long Beach, N.Y. Though there are still no offshore wind projects operating in the United States, the Obama administration has shown signs of backing the Long Island concept with the support of key Empire State agencies, including the New York Power Authority.

The NYPA in January submitted an OCS wind lease request to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency in charge. The request is still being processed.

In January, BOEM issued a request for commercial interest in a proposed 127-square-mile lease area off the coast of New York. NYPA, Consolidated Edison Inc. and the Long Island Power Authority expressed interest as part of a joint application.

As for the report, New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales said he hoped it would come to represent “a critical first step” toward building wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sarah Chasis, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s New York ocean initiative, lauded the report in a blog post yesterday. She said it strikes the right tone in seeking to protect fishing and wildlife while laying out the case for developing the mid-Atlantic’s vast offshore wind potential.

“This development must be done smart from the start,” Chasis said. “New York’s valuable ocean waters are already strained under the weight of pollution, destruction of marine habitats and depleted fish stocks.”