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Feds to begin environmental review for Sunrise Wind project

Wind turbines from the Deepwater Wind project stand

Wind turbines from the Deepwater Wind project stand in the sea off Block Island, Rhode Island. on Aug. 15, 2016. Credit: AP/Michael Dwyer

The federal government will begin an environmental review for Sunrise Wind, an offshore wind-power project slated to be built in federal waters 31 miles east of Montauk Point with a plan to power hundreds of thousands of Long Island homes by 2025.

The project, to be built off the Massachusetts-Rhode Island coast, will involve up to 122 turbines upward of 968 feet tall and more than 100 miles of cable to a landing point at Smith Point.

Three public sessions to direct the scope of the federal environmental review will take place virtually starting Sept. 16 and comments can be sent to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management until Sept. 30, according to BOEM's Sunrise Wind web page.

The project, originally awarded as an 880-megawatt array by New York state to Danish energy giant Orsted and partner Eversource in 2019, now has the potential to grow to 1,300 megawatts, according to a federally filed construction and operation plan released Monday. The excess power would be sold in power markets.

Sunrise Wind has already purchased a building in Setauket to serve as an operations base for the project, expected to be operational by 2025, the plan states.

The project is the latest of several to advance under a new pro-green-power stand by the Biden administration, which is seeking to expedite green energy projects to help forestall climate change and is planning for up to 30,000 megawatts of wind power by 2030.

"The demand for offshore wind energy has never been greater," said Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement. "We will continue to invest in the infrastructure to develop the offshore wind industry and to help attract the domestic supply chain."

Sunrise Wind is one of at least three offshore wind farms intended to serve LIPA’s 1.1 million customers. Among the others are Empire Wind 2, a 1,200-megawatt project planned for the waters off the South Shore of Long Island by Equinor and BP, and the South Fork Wind Farm, by Orsted, set to provide 130 megawatts to the South Fork. Sunrise Wind said its project would provide power for about 600,000 customers, mostly on Long Island.

LIPA is conducting a review of its power resources that will examine the transition from fossil-fuel plants to solar, wind and battery technology. The Island's grid received a setback in recent weeks with the loss of two major power lines to Long Island and the partial loss of power from a third forced it to contract for an old power plant that had been scheduled for mothballing and to delay the retirement of two other peak-use plants.

Sunrise Wind’s turbine field and offshore substation will require the installation of 123 pile-driven monopiles into the sea floor, including for an offshore converter station.

Sunrise Wind in a statement called the start of the federal environmental review "the project’s most significant milestone to date and another sign of the tremendous momentum for the U.S. offshore wind industry."

The federal construction and operations plan includes a long list of permits the project needs to receive before it can begin construction or provide service.

Federal fisheries regulators will require the company to put a plan together that avoids, minimizes and mitigates potential impacts to sea mammals. It will include ceasing all driving from January through April, having people and technology on the water to act as spotters for whales and other sea mammals so work can stop when they’re detected, and using bubble-curtain technology around the pile driving to disrupt the acoustic impact, said Eversource Vice President Ken Bowes.

The environmental review process is expected to take around two years, with construction anticipated to start in the middle of 2023, said Bryan Stockton, head of regulatory affairs for Orsted.

One opponent of the project said no amount of mitigation will reduce the impact on the sea floor and fisheries.

"This is not anything other than the industrialization of the U.S. ocean by foreign-government owned energy companies and hedge funders that do not care how they leave it," said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, an industry group. "It’s completely unacceptable."

Stockton said the maximum 1,300 megawatts is likely to be reduced based on a number of factors as the project plan is finalized. He said the project, with a 25-year contract to New York atate, is expected to be in service by 2025, but has a contract end-date of 2052.

One major change for the project since its earliest inception is the use of a high-voltage DC cable rather than an AC, one that makes the project considerably more efficient and reduces losses of power over its 106-mile cable length to Long Island, Stockton said. He said the cable under Smith Point is expected to exceed 30 feet below ground.

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