Lawmakers urge feds to jump-start offshore wind development

Mark Harrington for Newsday

August 26, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on August 26, 2020.

Members of Congress from New York on Wednesday called on the federal government to expedite long-overdue plans to designate and auction off areas in the South Shore waters of Long Island for wind development “as soon as possible.”  

The bipartisan delegation of 13 said U.S. Bureau of Energy Management had begun early work toward identifying areas in a body of water known as the New York Bight in 2018 and expected the bureau to finalize more areas in early 2019 and conduct lease auctions early this year.

“And yet, now a year and a half later, we are still waiting for final wind-energy areas to be issued,” they wrote to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. They urged the department to direct BOEM to make the designations so lease auctions can begin, noting the zone could generate about $447 million in lease sales next year.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), who spearheaded the letter-writing effort, said in Long Beach Wednesday that getting wind area approval back on track was urgent in light of worsening impacts of climate change.

“We truly don’t have any time to spare,” she said. She said the federal agency has offered “no legitimate explanation” for the delays and stressed she was not asking for “special treatment,” but for the agency to “do what they said they were going to do” and approve new lease areas.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) called the area off Long Island the “Saudi Arabia" of wind energy as a steady breeze blew across the boardwalk. But he noted the promise of that clean wind energy “can’t work unless the federal government opens up more lease areas.”

Joe Martens, director of industry group New York Offshore Wind Alliance, put it more bluntly. 

“If additional wind areas are not approved, [U.S.] offshore wind could be stopped in its tracks,” he said of the potential multibillion dollar industry projected to employ thousands and power 6 million New York homes.  

The BOEM, in a written statement, said it was “engaged in careful consideration and consultation with other agencies and stakeholders regarding potential lease areas."

It’s unclear whether the White House shares the group's enthusiasm for wind energy. President Donald Trump has berated the power source since the days LIPA considered a small wind farm 3 miles from Jones Beach to Robert Moses State Park in the early 2000s. His Scottish golf resort engaged in a quixotic legal battle against a wind farm, and lost. 

Commercial fishing groups, including many on Long Island, have opposed offshore wind farms, particularly those in heavily fished areas like the New York Bight, which includes waters extending all along the Long Island coast, dozens of miles out to sea. 

Last year, a delegation of Massachusetts lawmakers, including then presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, called for a federal probe, accusing the administration of dragging on wind-energy approvals while favoring fossil-fuel interests. And BOEM itself stalled progress on Vineyard Wind, a project off the coast of Massachusetts, after requiring a supplemental review in 2019 to study the “cumulative” impacts of large-scale offshore wind on the commercial fishing and shipping industries. The recently completed review, which found some impacts, has set back projects a year or more.

Some wind-industry executives say privately that they are waiting for the results of the November election to gauge just how quickly the industry will move forward, given Democrats’ embrace of green-energy alternatives such as offshore wind and solar.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, an ally of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, has made a substantive bet on offshore wind, with plans for about 9,000 megawatts of turbines providing energy for millions of New Yorkers by 2035. All of the projects, including one already leased for the New York Bight, are in federal waters, and will rely on federal government approvals to proceed.

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Kathleen Rice, Thomas Suozzi, Tom Reed, Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velazquez, Adriano Espaillat, Gregory Meeks, Eliot Engel, Paul Tonko, Yvette Clarke, Grace Meng, Max Rose and Jose Serrano.