Federal officials formally announced Thursday their intent to offer 81,180 acres of ocean bottom off New York to lease for wind energy development, with the potential to generate even more than the 700 megawatts foreseen in an initial 2011 proposal.

“That was done at a time when the standard turbine was 3.6 megawatts,” U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a telephone conference with news reporters. With latest technology and bigger machines – offshore developers are now looking to 6-megawatt turbines – that early proposal to power 245,000 homes could turn out to be much larger, Jewell said.

That first proposal came from New York power companies, but now the field has grown to seven potential bidders who have expressed interest in a lease auction that could be held late this year, Jewell and other officials said. The lease offering will go as a single block to the successful bidder, they said.

A BOEM map shows the proposed wind energy area offshore New York.

A BOEM map shows the proposed wind energy area offshore New York.

They also acknowledged the continuing challenges of siting offshore wind turbines and resolving conflicts in one of the world’s busiest seaways. With the port of New York and New Jersey at its apex, the New York Bight is full of shipping, barge traffic and a commercial fishing industry that remains deeply worried about being denied access.

“Some stakeholders such as commercial fishermen remained concerned,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The agency is continuing to talk to other stakeholders – the region’s tug and barge industry is following developments closely – and will hold a series of public meetings in New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island during the week of June 20.

The need to reduce conflicts and find the best site alternatives “is one of the reasons we took as long as we did” to propose an auction, said Janice Schneider, Interior’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management. The process of public comment before a lease offering starts when the proposal is published June 6 in the Federal Register.

Wind energy advocates say federal waters off the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states are some of the most attractive for wind power development, because of consistent weather patterns and large, power-hungry metro markets to sell into nearby.

But politics are playing a role too, with New Jersey-based Fishermen’s Energy blocked from developing its 30-megawatt Atlantic City proposal by state regulators, while Deepwater Wind has gotten full backing in Rhode Island for its 30-megwatt Block Island project due to come online late this year.

BOEM’s Hopper said backing from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is important in moving the New York wind area forward, as is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to power city-owned facilities as much as possible with power from renewable sources.

“Creating a market for the technology is critically important to making it happen,” she said.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.