Energy & environment

Written on the wind

As part of its ambitious carbon reduction goals, New York State is aiming for 2.4GW of offshore wind by 2030. Following the release of the New York State Offshore Wind Master Plan, which provides a roadmap for the years ahead, we ask what meeting this target will entail.

In January, New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo released the much-anticipated New York State Offshore Wind Master Plan. A comprehensive roadmap for the years ahead, the Master Plan aims to guide the development of 2.4GW of offshore wind by 2030. This is enough to power 1.2 million homes with clean energy.

Although the 2.4GW target may sound ambitious, the state believes it’s entirely achievable. It forms part of the governor’s larger 50 by 30 mandate (i.e., to generate 50% of the state’s electricity needs from renewables by 2030, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%). As well as cleaning up the energy mix, the move towards offshore wind is also expected to create thousands of new jobs.

According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which spearheaded the development of the plan, New York has a proven track record in building cost-effective renewables.

“Offshore wind is still a relatively new industry in the United States, so there are certainly going to be challenges, but New York has an extensive experience with land-based renewables,” says a NYSERDA spokesperson. “We see ourselves leveraging that experience for offshore wind.”

As Governor Cuomo announced in his 2018 State of the State address, the state will start working towards its goals almost immediately, with the first two solicitations expected this year and next. These solicitations, for at least 800MW wind in total, will represent a major step towards making the plan a reality.

Already, we have seen the release of a Policy Options paper, filed by NYSERDA, which serves as an appendix to the masterplan. It analyses different options for contracting offshore wind cost-effectively.

“The Policy Options paper was the first step in an ongoing process with the Public Service Commission, which determines the exact mechanism for procurement. A lot of the project financing is dependent on the outcome of that regulatory process,” says the NYSERDA spokesperson.

Intensive undertaking

Of course, a project of this scope does not come without its challenges. First of all, there’s the issue of cost – whatever the economic benefits, this will undoubtedly be a capital-intensive undertaking. Secondly, there’s the question of public engagement, specifically how something like this gets off the ground while keeping stakeholders’ views at its fore.

The second issue has hit the news recently, in the form of the lawsuit filed by local fishing groups against the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The problem is that some of the seafloor that has been leased for wind development is a hotspot for scallop fishing. According to the fishermen who work here, offshore development could put their livelihoods at risk. (New York itself is not a defendant in this lawsuit.)

However, BOEM is pressing ahead with plans, seeking to obtain nominations from companies interested in commercial wind energy leases within its proposed area of an additional 2,711 square miles.

Governor Cuomo said on a statement: “New York has made an unparalleled commitment to expanding offshore wind and leading in the clean energy economy, and I commend the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for supporting our efforts to develop a cleaner, more prosperous future.”

New York and its agencies, then, will need to perform a delicate balancing act – weighing the concerns against the benefits, and making sure the plan progresses in an economically justifiable way.

“New York is doubling down on our commitment to renewable energy and the industries of tomorrow,” said Governor Cuomo. “We are drawing upon our world-class workforce, unmatched intellectual capital, physical infrastructure and financial institutions to develop this increasingly affordable clean energy source that creates good paying jobs while protecting Long Island’s natural beauty and quality of life.”

Even without this rhetoric, the case for offshore is compelling. If the 2.4GW goal is achieved, this will reduce New York’s carbon emissions by more than 5 million tons of CO2, around a third of the overall emissions reduction target. According to the Policy Options Paper, it will bring public health benefits valued at $1bn altogether, and could lead to 100 fewer premature deaths.

The development will also spur economic growth and job creation, and will benefit from the fact that offshore wind is rapidly dropping in price. NYSERDA has estimated that by 2030, the cost of procuring offshore wind will be lower than the cost of Tier 1 Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) associated with other large-scale renewable technologies.

Above all, New York’s decision marks a firm ideological commitment to renewables, at a time when President Trump is seeking to expand offshore drilling. Trump’s plan – which would open 90% of the US coastline to oil and gas companies – has been met with stiff resistance from coastal states. New York State is one of several seeking an exemption.

“I remain deeply concerned by the federal government’s proposal to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling off our shores,” said Governor Cuomo. “New York has formally requested to be excluded from this offshore drilling plan, and we believe offshore wind is a better direction for our economy, for our environment and for our energy future.”

New phase

New York is not alone in preferring wind to fossil fuels. New Jersey is aiming for 3,500 MW of offshore wind by 2030, and Massachusetts wants to build 1,600 MW by 2027. The United States’ first offshore wind farm, a 30MW project off the coast of Block Island in Rhode Island, came online at the end of 2016. As of June 2017, 28 further projects totaling 23,735MW were in the works, the majority of them in the North Atlantic.

The United States, then, is becoming more confident about the technology’s potential, and is gearing up for a new phase of development after years of false starts. That said, New York’s plans lack much in the way of precedent, meaning it will need to proceed with caution. The master plan came off the back of two years’ research, analysis and outreach.

This included 20 studies into the impacts of offshore wind, looking at everything from birds and bats to shipping and navigation.

“Generally the studies support the notion that the waters off New York State are viable for offshore wind development,” says the NYSERDA spokesperson. “The Master Plan is intended to capture a number of the broader impact concerns of offshore wind, and to see how those relate specifically to the environment off the coast of New York.”

For instance, the Workforce Opportunity of Offshore Wind study found that the plans could lead to around 5,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation and operations. On top of that, New York’s workforce and infrastructure could benefit from $6.3bn of public and private sector expenditures. (Governor Cuomo has announced a $15 million commitment to train up the local workforce and assist improvements in port infrastructure.)

Meanwhile, the Environmental Sensitivities Analysis study was used to help identify which areas are most susceptible to environmental disturbance. Focusing on a 16,740 square mile area of the ocean, it developed data-intensive ‘sensitivity maps’ that considered the effects on various marine resources.

As well as compiling these studies, NYSERDA has engaged heavily with the public, conducting hundreds of meetings and consultations and seven public information sessions. New York will now form Technical Working Groups, which will focus variously on jobs, fishing, maritime activities and environmental issues.

“We’ve done a significant amount of public outreach over the past 18 months, and that outreach continues now as we work on the implementation,” says the NYSERDA spokesperson. “We’ve done our best to make contact and continue conversation with all stakeholders, big and small, who have a vested interest in this industry.”

With regard the fishing groups’ lawsuit, this relates specifically to the Empire Wind project, New York’s first privately developed offshore wind farm, which is being developed by Statoil off the coast of Long Island. According to the Long Island Fishing Association, federal regulators “never took into account historical fishing grounds before they gave away this piece of property.” While the Statoil development is separate from NYSERDA’s, the lawsuit may have broader implications for local offshore wind development.

Open houses

NYSERDA, however, could hardly be accused of failure to engage with fishing groups. It has hosted four open houses focused on the fishing industry, and conducted a Fishing and Fisheries Study reviewing the impacts. This study advised that “communications with fishers should be conducted early in project development,” and that developers should “understand the tradeoffs and mitigate impacts on those most affected”.

In fact, the Master Plan itself is structured around these kinds of concerns. It argues that the State wants to make “a concerted effort to protect our treasured marine environment and critically important activates like fishing, boating, and shipping that buoy our regional economy.” This will mean acknowledging any issues, environmental or otherwise, and tackling them wherever possible.

As for the other big issue, specifically how much the development will cost, it will depend on how the wind energy is purchased. As the Policy Options paper explains, New York is eyeing seven different procurement options ahead of this year’s solicitation. The aim is to adopt a strategy that minimises costs to ratepayers.

While offshore wind is getting cheaper by the year in Europe, it is still quite pricey in the US – the Block Island project cost the National Grid $0.244 per kWh, around four times the typical rate in Germany. However, Maryland recently offered two developers $0.132 per kWh, indicating that costs are falling Stateside too. New York State hopes to achieve low prices in part through harnessing economies of scale.

It’s also important to offset the costs against the potential economic gains. As the Policy Options paper notes: “The greenhouse gas reduction benefits, estimated in this Options Paper at around $1.9B, are approximately equal to estimated program costs for the most cost-effective procurement options. This indicates that the carbon reduction benefits alone could justify the costs of the State’s commitment to 2.4 GW of offshore wind, even before accounting for other anticipated benefits.”

As New York gears up towards its first solicitations, it seems that the state’s offshore wind sector has been given the push it needs to get started. And despite the challenges that may lie ahead, the opportunities are significant.

Senator Joseph Griffo, chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, said: “Maintaining our state’s fuel diversity with an emphasis on building more renewable sources of generation requires that we take advantage of our state’s natural assets. This is key to a sound energy policy for our state, and if done correctly, will provide a cleaner, greener New York for the next generation.”

This article appears in the 2018 vol 1 edition of World Wind Technology

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