The placement of large offshore wind farms along the Atlantic Ocean’s outer continental shelf increases the risk of vessel collisions and could force ships to take less safe routes, a Coast Guard Study has found.
Five years in the making, the Atlantic Coast Port Access Study was commissioned by the federal government as the Obama administration in 2009 expedited federal lease awards of stalled offshore wind projects along the Atlantic coast.
The final study was released in March, a month before the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held a task force meeting in New York at which its director called a New York wind farm her “highest priority.”
The Coast Guard report said large-area wind-farms have the potential to alter current shipping lanes, driving ships potentially closer together, farther offshore or closer to shallower, in-shore areas. “As wind farms are developed, vessel traffic will be displaced and may also be funneled into smaller areas, increasing vessel density with a concurrent increase in risk of collision, loss of property, loss of life, and environmental damage,” the report stated.
Several charting maps listed with the report show dense vessel traffic in busy shipping lanes in a narrowing triangle where the Long Island Power Authority, other state agencies and Con Edison proposed a wind farm around 19 miles from Long Beach and extending eastward. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority became the lead state agency pursuing a lease for 81,000 acres last month. NYSERDA said it “looks forward to working with the [Coast Guard] as it continues to evaluate potential navigational safety risks in the New York” wind-energy area. Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Katie Braynard said the agency’s “primary considerations are whether the presence of a wind farm will impede the conduct of Coast Guard missions and the safety of navigation and protection of the structure.”
She said the Coast Guard will evaluate placement of wind turbines off Long Island and make recommendations to BOEM that “could include downsizing the area.”
She noted that the Coast Guard cannot direct that the area be downsized but could direct that the developer “illuminate or mark the structures in a way consistent with navigation markings.” Environmental groups have advocated for an offshore wind energy in the U.S., and specifically on Long Island, for more than a decade. LIPA proposed, then scuttled one in the waters off Jones Beach in 2007, proposed a new one in 2008, and is set to vote next week on another off Rhode Island that could feed power to the South Fork.
The one eyed for 81,000 acres off Long Beach and the Rockaways was initially proposed in 2008, with Con Edison and New York Power Authority. Fishing groups generally oppose it because of its location in a prime area for squid, scallops and other fish.
The Coast Guard study also found that “in many cases proposed wind-energy areas such as at the entrance to Delaware Bay, if fully developed, would displace tugs and barges, forcing them to transit further inshore or offshore from their traditional routes.”
Larger, deep-hull vessels “appear to have less of a conflict with proposed wind energy areas” because they tend to sail in deeper waters. But conflicts “will occur at the entrances to major port areas where wind farms are proposed at or near harbor approaches.”
The study says that if those wind farms were sited “farther offshore, and away from port entrances, conflicts will be less of a navigation safety risk issue.”