The federal government on Thursday plans to auction off a parcel of 79,000 acres in the Atlantic Ocean just south of Long Island to build a wind farm over fishing grounds that scallop and squid fishermen say are vital to their trade.
Bidders hope to secure a 25-year lease to operate a wind farm, to sell the electricity to energy-hungry Long Island and the New York City region. Offshore wind is a big part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan for New York to get half of its energy from alternative sources by 2030.
But the commercial fishing industry opposes building wind turbines on this particular stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, which is sandwiched between shipping lanes into and out of the New York harbor.
“We are very afraid we are going to lock up an area of the bottom that is definitely favorable for scallop settlement,” said James Gutowski, a scallop fisherman from Barnegat Light, N.J., and chairman of the Fisheries Survival Fund.
Members of the fishing industry say the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management didn’t adequately consider what the impact would have on scallop and squid fishing grounds. The Fisheries Survival Fund and other members of the fishing industry filed a lawsuit last Thursday in a Washington, D.C., federal court seeking an injunction to block the lease from going into effect.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already removed about 1,780 acres from the lease area after the National Marine Fisheries Service flagged that parcel as a sensitive habitat and a prime commercial fishing spot.
The bureau also has awarded 11 offshore wind leases so far, including sites off Massachusetts, Delaware and Virginia. The developers for each of those projects are currently conducting site assessments, according to the bureau, which declined to comment on the lawsuit. A hearing is set for February. Other plaintiffs include the Garden State Seafood Association and the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.
Offshore-wind developer Deepwater Wind, based in Rhode Island, began operating the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. on Monday off Block Island, R.I., near the tip of Montauk. It also has a site located between Montauk and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., that it plans to build in phases. The first phase could begin construction in 2019 and would provide enough energy for more than 50,000 homes for Long Island’s South Fork.
A 2011 plan for the strip of the Atlantic Ocean, located about 11.5 miles from Jones Beach, called for building 194 turbines that would generate enough electricity to power 245,000 homes. But today’s improved wind technology could generate even more power, according to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is managing the auction. “There is significant market demand” in the region, said Tracey Blythe Moriarty, a bureau spokeswoman.
Some 14 organizations have qualified to bid during Thursday’s auction, including the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA. The authority is the first state entity to participate in a federal offshore wind auction, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
NYSERDA says if it wins the auction, it will hold its own competitive process to find a developer and operator. The winner of that process would build and operate the wind farm, and NYSERDA would arrange a long-term contract for the developer to sell the energy in the region.
“We believe we will actually get a project built,” said John Rhodes, chief executive of NYSERDA.
NYSERDA is also studying whether other sites south of Long Island are appropriate for offshore wind. It plans to announce other potential sites next year.
Deepwater Wind is also one of the 14 organizations that qualified to bid for the auction but has decided not to participate, said Jeff Grybowski, chief executive of the firm. Mr. Grybowski said his company will bid in a competitive process if NYSERDA wins the initial auction.
This Long Island parcel has a lot of potential for energy development, he said. “It’s a big site that can produce a lot of energy for the metropolitan New York area.”