New York Releases Offshore Wind Plan Amid Blowback from Activists
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a new plan to build offshore wind farms in New York. The Offshore Wind Master Plan charts a course for the state to power over a million homes with clean wind energy by 2030.
The plan calls for the farms to be built 20 miles off the coast of Long Island. It’s been applauded by many… But as Bo Hamby reports, not everyone is jumping on board.
Way out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, miles away from the Northeast coast, are five metal giants. They tower over 500 feet in the air with large metal arms that rotate slowly, generating energy for thousands of homes from the ocean winds that blow by… They’re offshore wind turbines, and they are the only five in America. But under the new plan, hundreds more of the giants could be coming to New York’s waters.
“We’re going to get jobs. We’re going to get clean electricity. And New York is trying to be one of the first movers on this and that’s exciting,” said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the National Resources Defense Council. He’s excited about the new plan. He says New Yorkers will see only a small increase in their energy bills. And offshore wind could be particularly helpful for New York City.
“The boroughs as a whole are very hard to get electricity in, and there’s a lot of people that want electricity here,” said Greene.
And Greene says it’s tricky to power the city because energy has to be transported in from power plants outside the five boroughs. But with offshore wind, clean energy could be piped directly in.
” It’s an electrical resource that can come right in here to the city and provide clean electricity to the biggest demand center in the state,” said Greene.
A demand center that uses up roughly a third of the state’s energy on any given day. The new plan would add 2.4 gigawatts to New York’s energy capacity, which is enough to power over a million homes. Dr. Vijay Modi teaches mechanical engineering at Columbia. He says that’s just a drop in the bucket.
“That’s actually less than five percent of what we do. So the real game-changing will occur when this becomes 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent. And I think this is just the beginning,” said Modi.
Modi is optimistic. He says the plan represents a long-term commitment that New York is ready to invest in wind power, which will motivate the private sector, which will bring costs down.
“These early stage investments will lead to cost-competitive energy in a decade,” said Modi.
But keeping costs down isn’t the only concern. Over 100 species of animals swim and fly where the turbines would be built, and some appear on endangered lists — like blue whales, leatherback turtles, and the scalloped hammerhead shark. And while clean energy may seem like a no-brainer for environmental activists, that’s not always the case. Taffy Williams works as a wildlife rehabilitator in Yonkers, and she’s seen up close the kind of damage turbines can inflict on birds.
“I get the birds that come in that have been injured. Most of them hit by bladed wind turbines are going to be killed,” said Williams.
And Williams says turbines can cause other problems, like dangerous noise levels from construction and the destruction of seafloor habitats. Annie Wilson is with the Environmental Law and Justice Project. She’s worried, too. But, she says the impact on the environment could be reduced if the turbines are built on the right site.
“Citing is the most important issue always. We can accommodate the best places without hindering on the development. We can have both,” said Wilson.
According to the plan, turbines will have to be built somewhere within a one million acre area off the coast of Long Island. Dr. Michael Gerrard is director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia. He says it’s going to be a hard pill to swallow — that there will be an environmental impact no matter where the turbines are placed.
“Offshore wind farms will kill some birds in the short term. In the long term, it’s very important for the preservation of entire species of birds as well as other creatures,” said Gerrard.
And preservation is what Cuomo is hoping for. Once the proposed area is approved, construction would begin on the first offshore wind farms. They’d start providing power sometime in 2025 and bring clean energy to New York for at least two decades.