The Norwegian company that plans to erect as many as 174 offshore wind turbines starting at 14 miles off Jones Beach, has decided against setting the devices on giant concrete foundations on the seabed, and instead will turn to less costly pile-driven structures.
The decision drew quick rebuke from two major environmental groups and marks a significant change from developer Equinor's earliest plans for the projects, called Empire Wind 1 and 2.
The wind farms are scheduled to bring power ashore at Long Beach and Brooklyn in the mid-2020s. Both projects are under state and federal review.
When it first announced the Empire 1 project in 2019, Equinor pledged to build a factory that would employ hundreds of New Yorkers to build "gravity-based foundations" — giant concrete structures measuring 180 feet in diameter.
Union labor would build the structures at a new port near Albany, and they would be brought down the Hudson River on giant barges — up to 174 structures the size of small buildings.
Newsday reported in August that Equinor was looking at driving monopile structures directly into the seabed as an alternative to the original plan.
The pile-driven monopiles, while potentially having a greater impact on sea mammals due to the hundreds of thousands of blows needed to drive them into the sea floor, have a major cost advantage.
Two major environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nature Conservancy, on Friday asked Equinor to keep to its original design for gravity-based foundations, "to minimize their impact on marine ecosystems."
The decision to switch to monopiles "comes as a shock, given the lack of consulation," the NRDC wrote in a letter to Equinor. "The potential sudden reversal will undermine the initial trust and goodwill that Equinor has developed thus far … "
Added Carl LoBue, NY oceans program manager for the Nature Conservancy, called it, "disappointing on multiple levels to lose that quiet foundation as an option. Going forward, we’ll be working to make sure the [pile driving] provisions are protective of marine life in New York, where we have whales basically year-round."
Monopiles, which cost around half the gravity-based structures, have a 50-foot diameter footprint on the sea floor, about a third that of concrete structures.
The 15-megawatt Vestas turbines the company plans to install off Long Island will be over 900 feet tall to the tip of the turbine blades
David Marks, head of public affairs for Equinor Renewables US, told Newsday the decision came after "extensive studies on the feasibility" of both monopiles and the concrete structures.
He said the decision did not affect the company's commitment to create economic benefits, including jobs, worth some $800 million in New York.
"We still have robust economic output absolutely committed to New York," Marks said.
In addition to their higher cost, gravity-base foundations had a more limited market for future U.S. wind energy projects, making the development of a manufacturing facility for them also unfeasible, Equinor officials said.
Scott Lundin, head of U.S. permitting and environmental affairs for Equinor, said the smaller footprint of monopiles offer the ecological advantage of taking up less of the seabed.
The monopile option will include a "robust mitigation plan" to minimize environmental impacts, Lundin said, including restrictions on when the work can occur because of migrating whales and other sea mammals.
Pile driving requires several hundred to several thousand blows to hammer the giant monopiles into the sea floor — sounds that reverberate for miles.
Equinor has yet to finalize its contract with the state for the Empire Wind 2 and a separate project called Beacon Wind.
"It's taking longer than both parties anticipated," Marks said of the contracts, but could be done by year end.
Kate Muller, a spokeswoman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which awards offshore-wind energy contracts, said the agency has "every confidence" Equinor and partner bp are "working diligently" to advance Empire Wind "efficiently, cost-effectively for consumers and safely for marine line while upholding their important commitments to economic development" in the state.