The top U.S. official for offshore energy declared Thursday that a proposed wind farm off Long Beach is her office’s “top priority.”
Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told a group of around 50 stakeholders at the Garden City Hotel that her office’s renewed urgency was based on the state’s willingness to site the project, a plentiful wind resource in the Atlantic Ocean and high demand for the energy in the downstate region.
“New York is the priority” for her office, she said of the site, which sits 11 nautical miles south of Long Beach. Issuing a lease for the 81,000-acre site is “absolutely what is going to happen in 2016.”
Backers for the project, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the New York Public Interest Research Group, have expressed support for a South Shore wind farm, which was first broached by LIPA, Con Edison and the New York Power Authority in September 2008. That long delay has heightened the sense of urgency.
“This has been the most evaluated, scrutinized and discussed energy infrastructure in America,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Several officials of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration attended the event, but refused to speak to a reporter to explain the state’s heightened interest in the 8-year-old project.
While there were many supporters, primarily environmentalists, at the meeting, there were also opponents. Representatives for scallop, squid and mackerel fishing industries criticized the site and the process that selected it.
“Our concern is there’s been no process to identify an alternative area,” said David Frulla, an attorney for the Fisheries Survival Fund, which represents scallop-fishing interests. He said about a third of the eastern sector of the site is prime scallop-fishing grounds, the loss of which would harm the industry.
Meghan Lapp, representing Rhode Island squid and mackerel fishing interests at Seafreeze Ltd., said the entire site is heavily fished. “It looks like they put a giant bullseye” on the fishing grounds for the wind-energy site, she said.
Hopper, in an interview, said she considered fishing data in selecting the site, but decided it was “premature to take areas off the table” because of such objections. “There will be a very rigorous, site-specific assessment,” if indeed a lease is awarded, she said.
She noted the agency still has not selected any proposal, or even decided to issue a lease. The agency has previously said it could take around seven years or more before a wind farm is operating, and that the current site could be granted, reduced or not awarded at all.
Bidding for the 81,130 acres of ocean is expected to start at $2 an acre, or $162,260 to start. The online auction is expected to result in a much higher price. Any bidder would also pay other fees, including an annual rent of $3 an acre, or $243,390, and an operating fee that would amount to $1.4 million a year for a project of 500 megawatts. LIPA’s proposed project was to be two phases of 350 megwatts. A LIPA official at the meeting declined to comment on it.