New York’s vision for a fleet of offshore wind turbines to power the state’s energy grid by 2024 won’t break the bank or ruin the view, state officials said on the eve of public meetings on Long Island this week.
The state and wind-farm developers are expected to face questions about cost, views and impacts on fishing and birds at three open-house informational meetings, starting in Brookhaven Town Hall on Tuesday night. They will continue in Southampton Wednesday and finish in Long Beach Thursday.
The informational meetings are meant to give local citizens a chance to ask questions about the projects, which have received widespread support from environmental groups concerned about climate change. The state’s plan for up to 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind could see conventional power plants idled across the downstate region in coming decades.
The state this summer awarded billions in contracts to two European energy giants, Equinor of Norway and Orsted of Denmark, to install offshore turbines more than 850 feet tall as near as 15 miles from Long Island’s South Shore. (Half of the turbines will be as far away as 30 miles northeast of Montauk.)
Doreen Harris, vice president of large-scale renewables for the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, said the price of energy from the wind farms “exceeded our expectations significantly,” in the bidding process.
She also said the state “spent a lot of time” analyzing the visual impacts of both wind farms, including a wind visibility threshold study. The Orsted project at 30 miles from Montauk won’t be seen from New York. Empire Wind, at 15 miles from Jones Beach, will be visible “under certain limited conditions,” she said, adding, “I would say the visibility impacts will be quite minimal.”
Orsted’s turbines may not be visible from New York, but the company acknowledged its plan includes construction of at least one special offshore platform between Long Island and the wind-energy area off the Massachusetts/Rhode Island coast to help limit energy losses from the roughly 100 miles of cable. This requires a so-called reactive compensation station between the offshore field and Long Island at least 20 miles from shore, a spokeswoman confirmed, declining to say where it would be located or if it would be visible from Long Island.
“We anticipate the need for reactive compensation for the export cables,” said spokeswoman Lauren Burm. She declined to specify where the Orsted cable would make land, saying, “We are working on evaluating our best possible options.” Previously the company said it would connect to a LIPA substation in Holbrook.
Harris said one of the reasons the state committed so deeply to the 1,700 megawatts of wind this year is that the price was so competitive. The state bid was originally for 800 megawatts. The 1,700 megawatts would power more than 1 million homes, the state says.
“The prices were very strong,” said Harris of the winning bidders’ proposed cost for energy. “It drove our decision in awarding 1,700 megawatts, along with quality of those projects,” including commitments to New York’s economy.
“We’ve said prices [awarded in New York] are in line with those in New Jersey and New England,” Harris said. “Prices were quite favorable.”
In New Jersey, a separate award to Orsted for an 1,100-megawatt wind contract will hike average bills around $1.46 a month for residential customers, and up to $110 a month for industrial users, according to the state’s Board of Public Utilities Commission.
Those prices are less than the $1.58 per month that typical LIPA customers were told they would pay for a much smaller 130-megawatt wind farm to serve the South Fork. (LIPA’s project is separate from New York State’s.)
The Orsted and Equinor projects are projected to cost around $3 billion each to build.
The state will disclose wind-farm energy prices within 30 days of the contracts with the wind-energy companies being finalized, Harris said. “We are very close to finalizing both agreements that will start 30-day clock,” she said.
Prior meetings about wind farms off Long Island shores have brought legions of supporters urging the state forward, but also opponents decrying costs, obstructed views, and turbines’ impacts on fishing and other wildlife. One longtime Long Island fisherman who will be at sea during the hearings said prior assurances have not quelled his concerns.
“I’m petrified of them,” said Mark Phillips, one of the most experienced commercial fishermen on Long Island and one of the last operating out of Greenport. His chief concern, he said, is the turbines’ potential impact on the region’s vital squid fishery. Despite assurances that fishing will be allowed in the turbine fields, Phillips said, “Even with the mile spacing, I’m not going to take the chance.”
He’s also read reports that vibrations from the turbines could affect whether squid will still move through their traditional spawning grounds. “The potential to lose the whole inshore squid fishery is real to me,” he said.
Harris said the both wind farms chosen by the state were selected not just for their competitive energy prices but for how they planned to handle potential impacts on industries such as commercial fishing.
“Each agreement that we are now in the process of finalizing has fisheries and environmental mitigation plans submitted with its proposals,” she said. She said the specific plans will be released with contract disclosures soon.
Another potential issue that has been raised by groups that worry about impacts is the visibility of the turbines from shore and their potential impacts on Jones Beach, to which the Empire Wind farm will be closest at 15 miles. “All assurances that the power plant will be so far out as to be invisible from shore became instantly false when Equinor decided to use turbines that stand 852 feet tall,” read one email sent among Jones Beach groups opposed to any development near the park. They are also concerned that Empire Wind will operate an operations and maintenance center near Jones Beach.
But Julia Bovey, director of external affairs for Equinor, ruled out the prospect of an operations center in Nassau County, and Jones Beach specifically, and said the turbines would be visible only at “very particular times of day, under very specific weather conditions.” Lights for ships at night will be low on the turbines and not visible from shore, while lights atop the turbines for air navigation will only be on when planes are in the specific vicinity.
“The maximum the night lighting would be on is 202 minutes a year,” she said. “So, on average, the light would be on 33 seconds a night.”
Bovey said the company couldn’t find a suitable site for an operations center for this phase of offshore wind, so likely will have to locate it in Brooklyn.