New York’s Next Superhero? An Offshore Wind Farm

from Wildlife Promise

The best sail of my life took place off the eastern end of Long Island. Upon learning that the winds off of New York’s coast present some of the most ideal offshore wind power potential on the planet, my mind went right back to that day on the water. As my uncle and I circled Shelter Island, I remember thinking, “This is just right.” At a recent Long Island Offshore Wind Conference covered by Newsday, I gained a more holistic understanding of exactly how “just right” New York’s offshore breezes are.

NWF Senior Manager for Climate & Energy, Catherine Bowes shares New York's offshore wind opportunities with a full auditorium on Long Island

NWF Senior Manager for Climate & Energy, Catherine Bowes shares New York’s offshore wind opportunities with a full auditorium on Long Island

New York state leaders—including representatives from New York Power Authority, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, New York Department of State, and PSEG—joined industry, labor, and environmental representatives at Stony Brook University last week for a forum on the exciting opportunity of offshore wind power for New York. Over the course of the day, it became more and more clear that New York is inching ever closer to capitalizing on the fact that it holds one of the best geographic positions in the world for offshore wind power.

New York and New England pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. New York City residents, despite relatively low per capita energy usage, pay top dollar for the congestion on their transmission lines. Imagine (as detailed in this Maine Ocean & Wind Industry webinar with Dr. Bruce Bailey) sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic in a taxi, watching the meter go up while you crawl to your destination. Now imagine that a few extra lanes appear next to you on the freeway, your driver pulls into one of them and zips you quickly and efficiently to where you need to be. Whether those lanes appear or not, you will travel the same distance, but the final cost of your ride will look a lot better at the end of an open road.

Lightening the Load

Likewise, the energy traveling from a power plant to a Manhattan apartment usually hits heavy traffic, and the congestion is reflected on millions of electric bills every month. Of course, sticking with our freeway analogy, a few freshly open lanes—more power flooding the system when congestion is high—would certainly help keep that meter from rising more than it needs to. But with what we know about air and water pollution, climate change, and the importance of creating local jobs, building new fossil fuel power plants to pump dirty energy into urban centers is not the only option. Within the frame of America’s existing energy infrastructure, New York seems to be approaching an impossible situation… until an offshore wind power developer comes to the table.

Wind Turbine

Offshore wind power has created nearly 60,000 jobs in Europe. Here, two service engineers work on a turbine in Sweden’s Lillgrund offshore wind farm.

As we consider New York’s energy challenges, I can’t help but think New York’s first offshore wind turbines ought to be festooned with masks and capes. The more I heard about how dire the region’s energy situation is, the more the discussion of an offshore wind farm resembled that of a superhero arriving at the 11th hour. And just the right superhero:

  • One that produces the most energy (by harnessing that great afternoon sea breeze) when and where New York needs it the most (as everyone gets home from commuting on a hot summer day and cranks up their air conditioners);
  • one that will generate long-term jobs in New York’s port communities as well as upstate;
  • one that will diversify the region’s energy portfolio, creating an economically valuable hedge to protect against volatility in the fossil fuel market;
  • and one that will help protect wildlife and future generations from the dangerous impacts of climate change, in a community sitting on the front lines of the sobering impacts of our current dependence on fossil fuels.

Just over a year after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, New York’s leadership has invested billions of dollars in building resiliency through preparedness for future storms. That is endlessly important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. We have a moral imperative to think preventively as well.  While we need to be as prepared as possible for the new realities of a changing climate, we need to simultaneously paint a different, more responsible picture of the future. There is something heroic about the fact that we can.

Right now, Governor Cuomo has an immediate opportunity to make offshore wind power part of New York’s energy future. The Long Island Power Authority is currently accepting proposals for new renewable energy generation, so now is the time to speak up and voice your support for responsibly-sited offshore wind power off New York’s shores!

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