The difference between what the federal government and New York State have carved out for renewable wind energy projects destined to be built off the south shore of Long Island is about 2.7 miles.
That’s a big difference, especially for the commercial fishermen, environmentalists and South Fork residents who voiced their concerns Monday about wind farms proposed in their backyards.
“We know the moment [the federal government] gets a taste of wind farms in the Atlantic, we are going to be playing whack-a-mole with energy and oil companies creeping up on our fishing grounds,” Bonnie Brady said at a presentation by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, on Monday night at the Southampton Inn.
Ms. Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in Montauk, said that, like other commercial fishermen in the audience, she worries that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, which has jurisdiction over the Atlantic, will lease more ocean for wind energy development and wind up hurting the industry.
In October 2017, NYSERDA recommended two leasing areas to BOEM after various studies. The state’s master plan was praised by some residents, like Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, for its speedy analysis.
“We started this a long time ago. It was 1999 when we assessed our offshore wind potential. We convinced Long Island Power Authority for two studies. Those took a while—not like this,” Mr. Raacke said.
The state has moved quickly—a little more than a year—to study and narrow down proposed wind leasing areas.
But BOEM went ahead with its own analysis this year. Only two of the zones, opposite Long Beach and northern New Jersey, are in similar locations to what New York recommended. BOEM is also eying parts of the ocean parallel to Fire Island National Seashore—and offshore waters from Southampton to Montauk.
There is already one wind array leased in New York, with four more off the coast of Block Island, including the South Fork Wind Farm, which is eyed to connect to a substation in East Hampton before transferring to the rest of New York’s power grid. Nearby, two leasing areas are off the coast of southern New Jersey.
The evening’s recurring theme was a persistent call for rigorous oversight and environmental review. Opponents of BOEM’s plan—including New York Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr.—found NYSERDA’s site map for the location of wind energy projects to be a better starting point for future development.
“Long Island has been saddled with repeated energy policy failures that have ultimately cost Long Islanders billions of dollars and have provided a significant drag on the regional economy,” Mr. Thiele said in a statement on Monday passed around at the meeting, referencing a failed attempt to open a nuclear power plant in Shoreham.
Mr. Thiele and many East End elected officials have expressed support for clean energy initiatives as long as residents have a say in the decision-making process.
“It’s a case of deja vu,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said about BOEM’s approach. “I am seriously concerned about South Fork fishing and [the] aesthetics [of the project]. [A wind farm] would be highly visible and affects how you all would experience the beach. If we are going to convince the public that offshore wind is the answer, we need it to be responsible for our environment and socially, too.”
NYSERDA mapped out areas 17.3 miles away from the shoreline for wind farm development. The idea was not to crowd the seascape with towering wind turbines. But after further review and public commentary, NYSERDA extended the area to at least 20 miles offshore in October 2017. BOEM, meanwhile, has kept its line drawn at the 17.3-mile mark.
The federal agency currently has its eyes set to lease about 287 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean for wind farm development if it doesn’t use NYSERDA’s recommendations, or something new all together.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad is the owner of a commercial fishing business in Hampton Bays she runs with her husband, Ray. Ms. Lofstad said fishermen try to engage with state agencies, but the state needs to make more of an effort to go down to the docks to see their side of the story.
“If attending a wind meeting means missing a day of fishing, most guys will pass on the meeting. But it’s not for a lack of interest. Fishermen work hard to pay their bills and their crew, sometimes fishing in dangerous sea conditions, adhering to trip limits, mesh sizes and area closures—and, yes, missing important meetings,” Ms. Lofstad said about the state’s wind meetings, which typically are held during business hours, though Monday’s in Southampton began at 6 p.m.
Commercial fishermen have said the largest complaint is that wind lease areas are proposed in historic fishing grounds. NYSERDA has mapped out many of these zones as “low-revenue” areas. The state’s analysis was extensive, and NYSERDA ruled out the three major shipping lanes that feed into the Port of New York, over bunches of undersea cables that would require more capital and work, and where high densities of wildlife, including birds and marine life, live and migrate throughout the year.
But Ms. Lofstad insisted that was not enough.
“Sometimes we make good money in an area, and sometimes we don’t—that is just a part of fishing,” Ms. Lofstad said. “What may be ‘low-revenue’ to a wind development company, or a government agency, could in the reality of a fisherman be the difference between losing money on a fishing trip or, hopefully, making enough to cover the fuel and other expenses, to pay your crew so they don’t quit, and to cover your boat loan.”
Ms. Lofstad said NYSERDA and BOEM just giving “lip service” to fishermen to fill a marker in their studies is not enough. “We ask for the respect of our knowledge … the knowledge that allows a man to feed his family by doing the work that is in his blood—while fishing rough seas, regulations, and now, an industrial takeover of the ocean,” Ms. Lofstad said, “[all] to catch a day’s pay.”
Despite more than 20 studies under NYSERDA’s belt, Gregory Lampman, its environmental research program manager, said the state is working on additional studies to predict what will happen during construction and installation phases.
“We know a lot more work needs to be done,” Mr. Lampman said. “This is a good start, but there is much more to be done. It’s why we host meetings like this.”
Additional studies that are still ongoing include analyzing wind speed and the ocean’s waves and currents. The state is monitoring air quality and wildlife, as well as energy and workforce supply-and-demand trends, too.
“The scale of offshore wind that is needed for manufacturing at port facilities can significantly help the economy,” said Matt Vestal, of NYSERDA’s Large-Scale Renewables program, “New York and Long Island can benefit from this process.”
There are 65 port facilities in the region that are under review by the state that could be used for manufacturing and operational purposes. Mr. Vestal said that effort has been bolstered by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement during the State of the State address that $15 million would be infused into workforce development for state universities, technical and trade schools, and organized labor groups.
The evening was an informative update to offshore wind development plans, but Ms. Brady, of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said the government just doesn’t get it.
“They are trying to figure out where we fish,” Ms. Brady said, palming her forehead. “For God’s sake, they have tails. We chase them!”
Jennifer Kilanski, an environmental protection specialist at BOEM who was in attendance, advised residents to share their concerns with the federal agency before the public comment period closes May 29. The state’s Public Service Commission is also seeking comment on policy and regulations decisions before June 4.