A new chart of potential offshore wind energy areas by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management accounts for concerns raised by the maritime and commercial fishing industries in the crowded New York Bight.
“There is a lot going on there,” said Walter Cruickshank, acting director of BOEM, which will present its draft plan in New York City at the Hotel Pennsylvania on Wednesday. “We got a lot of great input from a lot of sources.”
BOEM outlined large “call areas” for potential wind power development in the New York Bight, a heavily trafficked arm of the Atlantic between Cape May, N.J., and Montauk, N.Y. The draft chart released Nov. 14 shows primary and secondary areas for wind development, which BOEM could develop into future lease offerings to offshore wind energy developers.
One recommendation was for an offshore tug and tow transit lane diagonally across the bight between Cape May and Montauk, with wide lanes and safety setbacks from future turbine arrays. The Coast Guard and maritime groups likewise want ample buffers around the three existing shipping separation lanes leading in and out of New York Harbor.
Commercial fishermen and seafood companies have insisted on have adequate sea room for their boats to work – surf clam and ocean quahog operators say they need 2 nautical miles between turbine towers to safety maneuver their heavy shellfish dredges.
BOEM is requiring wind developers to use fisheries liaison outreach as part of their planning, and “more broadly we are still in the mode of finding where fishermen are active in the New York Bight,” said Cruickshank.
In the end all fishermen will be allowed to access wind energy areas, he said. That has been a persistent fear based on some European waters where mobile gear fishermen were shut out.
“That’s not going to happen here,” said Cruickshank. “The Coast Guard has been very specific about that.”
The offshore wind energy industry got a setback Nov. 19 when a Rhode Island state fisheries advisory board withheld support for Vineyard Wind’s 800-megawatt project in southern New England waters. That could endanger the company’s support from Rhode Island coastal regulators; federal law from the 1970s gives coastal states a big say in energy development off their shores.
The New York Bight draft proposal is for less than the initial call areas, but could still accommodate development potential up to 9.6 gigawatts from wind power, which state officials in New York and New Jersey want to attain their own ambitious goals for renewable energy production.
By way of comparison, 9.6 GW of peak wind power would be about the production of fifteen onshore power plants like the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey, the nation’s oldest commercial nuclear power plant that was retired in September after 49 years of operation.
During months of public meetings and critiques, BOEM heard from maritime advocates and businesses, commercial fishermen, the Coast Guard and others who do business on one of the nation’s busiest seaways.
“The Department of Defense has some things they do up in that area too,” said Cruickshank. On top of all those issues, BOEM has been getting information about marine mammals and endangered species that live and migrate in the region, he said. That includes the critically endangered northern right whale, with less than 450 animals left in the wild.
“We recognize there is no place free of conflicts,” said Cruickshank. “We’ll be continuing to gather information.”
BOEM’s purpose is posting the broad call areas was to solicit interest from the wind energy industry, and “we did get a pretty strong industry response,” said Cruickshank. “Both New York and New Jersey have aggressive goals for offshore.”
It is a complex challenge for an agency that has dealt mostly with oil and gas production and seafloor mining in decades past.
“It’s different in a number of ways. Offshore oil and gas has been part of the Gulf of Mexico since the 1940s. That was well before environmental statutes and greater use of the area. The oil and gas industry was pretty well established,” said Cruickshank. “It’s different when you have a new industry coming in.”