The US Department of the Interior is scheduled to hold its first offshore wind lease sale this week. The move is important as one of many necessary mechanisms to lower reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate warming levels. As a renewable energy source, turbines blowing in the wind have few effects on the environment. Pervasive in Europe, they reduce the amount of electricity generation from fossil fuels, which results in lower total air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.
Unfortunately — and as has been the case in so many attempts to move the US away from industrial oil — oppositional groups have voiced concerns about the wind lease sale. At stake for fishers, wind developers, and the Biden administration, the New York Bight offers appealing shallow waters between Long Island, New York, and the New Jersey coast.
Offshore wind power is the generation of electricity from wind by constructing wind farms in water bodies. It is estimated to be one of the most inexpensive and cleanest forms of electricity generation. Offshore wind turbines are larger in size and have greater wind speed compared with onshore wind turbines.
On December 16, 2021, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the availability of a final environmental assessment that looked to the potential impacts of the issuance of commercial and research leases within the targeted wind energy areas of the New York Bight and granting of rights-of-way and rights-of-use and easement in the region.
The BOEM identified nearly 800,000 acres as Wind Energy Areas in the New York Bight between Long Island and the New Jersey coast. More than 7 gigawatts of carbon-free electricity could be produced in the New York Bight, which would bring the nation much closer to meeting US President Joe Biden’s goal of generating 30 gigawatts of power from offshore wind energy by 2030. A December, 2021 White House fact sheet describes how the federal government intends to work with utilities, developers, technology firms, financiers, and others to purchase electricity produced from resources that generate no carbon emissions, including solar and wind, for all its operations by 2030.
Fishing Industry Opposition to the New York Bight
Not all constituents are in favor of the New York Bight project. The fishing industry is especially in opposition, revisiting their previous contention about the 5 Rhode Island offshore wind turbines in the Block Island Wind Farm. Fast forward to 2022. Within the bight, commercial fishermen fish for scallops, summer flounder, and surf clams, among other species. In a letter sent in April, 2021, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell wrote the Central Bight and Hudson South were established on “significant” scallop fishing grounds. He proposed the removal of a five-mile strip along the eastern boundary of Hudson South to minimize fishery impacts.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), which is a broad membership-based coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies committed to improving the compatibility of new offshore development with their businesses, has risen as a main oppositional voice to the New York Bight offshore wind project. The group has argued that fishers should receive compensation for losses caused by turbines in commercial fishing grounds.
For example, the group filed a Petition for Review in the First Circuit US Court of Appeals regarding the Secretary of the Interior’s 2021 decision approving the Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind energy project, a 62-turbine project under construction off Martha’s Vineyard.
ROAD does seem to indicate that it has no immediate plans to file for litigation over the New York Bight.
New Jersey Residents Sue to Reverse Wind Turbine Development
The Washington Post previously reported that opposition to new offshore wind projects in the US has also come from coastal homeowners worried about spoiled seaside views and conservationists concerned about the impact on endangered whales. This week Reuters reported that a group of New Jersey residents has sued the BOEM to seek the reversal of its March decision to pursue the development of an area of ocean 30 miles off the coast of New Jersey for wind turbines.
Community group Save Long Beach Island (SLBI) accused the BOEM in federal court of failing to prepare an in-depth report on potential environmental impacts of selecting the 800,000 acres of the New York Bight to lease to the developers who would install wind turbines. SLBI poses the following questions to their followers:
- Do you want to see several hundred turbines the size of the Eiffel Tower just ten miles from our beaches?
- Do you know that the most visible modern wind project in the world is currently proposed for the entire coast of LBI? It will run from Barnegat Light to Holgate and will be closer to shore than any other modern wind project in the world.
- Do you know there is a much better location for this project – the Hudson South call area — that was already approved by the federal government for wind turbines and has the potential to provide much more wind energy than the current location?
- Do you know there has been no assessment of the impact of this wind project on the marine life off our coast? Or the impact on commercial and recreational fishing, as well as boating safety?
The complaint claims that BOEM failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act. The group rejects the validity of the plan for BOEM to “defer its NEPA review of wind energy development in the New York Bight until after wind leases are issued and the leaseholders submit specific wind energy projects.”
Final Thoughts about Turbines Blowing in the Wind
If you look out the window, you probably see electrical wires strung from telephone poles across the landscape. Those go virtually unnoticed — they’re a norm, to be expected, and something which we ignore. Turbines blowing in the wind certainly will create a different landscape vista for oceanfront homeowners. But that view isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve motored by the Block Island Wind Farm, the first US offshore wind farm, and it is truly an exciting sight to see. Moreover, Block Island had previously been powered by 5 diesel generators which burned over 1 million gallons of fuel every year, but now it is powered entirely by offshore wind. Renewable energy offers a winning solution for these island residents.
Additionally, what’s left unsaid in fishing industry oppositional comments to the New York Bight wind turbine project is how keenly the fishers have witnessed the effects of the climate crisis. They’ve seen up-close-and-personal the rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, and the resulting diminishing numbers of fish populations.
Yes, the answer to removal of fossil fuels as a primary energy source may be blowing in the wind. But will constituent groups looks past their own self interest and see the existential crisis before them?
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