The developer of a wind farm that would have spanned the Hamptons has withdrawn its tentative plan in favor of sites to the west, and is urging the federal government to restrict turbines from East End waters, according to the Germany-based developer's top U.S. official.
The decision highlights the daunting odds the proposals for wind farms 20 miles off the South Fork face as the federal government finalizes proposed lease sites amid state and local opposition to Hamptons-region arrays.
Bill White, managing director of East Wind LLC, a subsidiary of EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, said Friday the decision to withdraw and recommend against development off the Hamptons was primarily related to concerns about impacts on fishing.
East Wind had identified six sites for turbines off Long Island, each requiring around 79,000 acres of sea bottom. One was a large swath of an area known as Fairways North directly off East Hampton and Southampton. Each site would be populated with around 100 turbines to produce some 800 megawatts, East Wind’s paperwork says. A megawatt of wind energy can power around 360 homes.
In withdrawing its Fairways North proposal, East Wind will focus development efforts in a proposed New York wind-energy area on waters farther to the west, from Long Beach to Patchogue, White said. He notified federal officials of East Wind's withdrawal earlier this year.
"We attended some of the stakeholder meetings, and listened to some of the concerns fishermen and other users expressed," he said. "There’s no such thing as a perfect site that doesn’t have any conflicts. We thought it was best to focus on" western sites known as Hudson North and South.
One plan encounters rough waters
Even the most modest of the three original proposals for Hamptons waters, a 30-turbine array called Horizon Wind proposed for more than 20 miles off Coopers Beach in Southampton, faces challenges. Horizon Wind's chief executive said he has been working overtime in recent weeks and months to spur the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to finalize wind-energy areas while he is trying to convince the state to reverse its opposition to a Hamptons-adjacent wind area.
New York has no formal jurisdiction in site selection but holds power in its ability to authorize contracts to purchase energy from the wind farms. Fishing groups are also opposed.
Ross Thomas, the chief executive of Horizon Wind, in an interview Wednesday expressed frustration with the process of advancing his project, particularly as federal tax credits that could cut $100 million from the $1 billion cost of his project expire at year's end.
Thomas has written forceful letters to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to plead the urgency of his cause, and the benefit of his project, which he says would barely be seen from shore and take advantage of the biggest wind resource in federal waters off New York. He also argues that fishermen would be least impacted by the area he proposes.
Wind-farm developers have until this year’s end to start some phase of their plans to qualify for a federal investment tax credit, which this year has dropped to just 12 percent from a former 30 percent, before it ends in 2020.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hasn’t yet announced the final map for new wind-energy areas off New York, in addition to one already leased to Empire Wind off Long Beach. Tentatively proposed federal areas include two large blocks off the Hamptons, and several larger blocks to the west, all in an area known as the New York bight.
“Developers such as myself and many others have been extremely patient with a stakeholder engagement and feedback process, yet we have not received any real information/direction on how BOEM wish to proceed for more than seven months,” Thomas wrote in a letter to BOEM acting director Walter Cruickshank last month.
Another developer, Avangrid Renewables, in its federal filing identified the Fairways North area and a narrower, slightly more western spur known as Fairways South encompassing some 560,000 acres with power ratings of from 800 to 2,400 megawatts — conceivably requiring hundreds of turbines.
Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman noted that BOEM hasn't made final lease area designations for Fairways North and South and "until the areas are designated and auctioned, we couldn’t determine whether we’d be the lessee for those areas or the potential size of an offshore wind project."
Avangrid's paperwork nevertheless emphasizes big projects. "Avangrid Renewables would like to stress that only by building sufficiently large projects that sustain a commercially viable and visible pipeline, will the economies of scale and investment be reached to drive down costs and underpin the ambitious targets," it says.
State opposes turbines off Hamptons
BOEM spokesman Stephen Boutwell wouldn’t say if the expiring tax credit has lent urgency to the agency’s approval process. “BOEM anticipates leasing additional areas in the New York Bight once the Area Identification process is completed later this year," he said in a statement.
That’s not sitting well with Thomas.
“Right now we’re dealing with incompetencies of government,” said Thomas, noting BOEM’s delays along with issues raised by the Coast Guard and the Defense Department with the Hamptons’ proposed wind-energy area he’s chosen. Then there’s New York State, which does not support wind-energy areas off the Hamptons and has registered opposition with BOEM, officials said.
“No one can really tell me who and why [New York regulators] don’t want these turbines in Fairways North and South,” off the Hamptons, said Thomas, noting the corridor has “the highest wind resource in the whole of the New York Bight." He called the state's opposition “extremely fishy."
NYSERDA in a statement said the state “stands by” its decision to recommend areas outside the Hamptons-area sites “for a number of environmental and economic reasons.”
NYSERDA also defended its decision to allow only companies that hold leases for offshore wind areas rather than those developers that just have plans to bid on leases once areas are established.
“Obtaining an offshore federal lease is a critical step in site development that enhances project viability, establishes the project’s locational boundaries, and increases certainty of a project’s successful completion as well as its ability to deliver environmental and economic benefits to New York,” NYSERDA said in response to Newsday.
It's not just the state that has formally opposed turbines off the Hamptons shoreline. Peter Von Scoyoc, supervisor of East Hampton Town, said even seeing turbines on the far horizon from Hamptons beaches would be unacceptable.
“We don’t really need to have them within site of land, and I don’t really support that," he said. "That’s just one more thing to have to mitigate."