How will offshore wind farms proposed for Rockaway’s neighboring Atlantic waters — Reduce energy costs? — Generate jobs specifically for locals? — Impact marine life? These are just a few of the questions posed by attendees at New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) Offshore Wind presentation and Q&A at Queens Public Library-Peninsula this past Monday, August 14.
The room was packed with standing-room only as both locals, surrounding NYC residents and political and civic leaders, including Senator Joseph Addabbo, feverishly awaited to hear and ask questions about the planning process, and the impact the proposed 80,000-acre wind farm site off Rockaway will have on the community.
The community outreach efforts of NYSERDA, the state agency leading the effort to develop offshore wind, coincide with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal to pursue options like offshore wind to produce 50 percent of the state’s electricity needs from renewable energy sources by 2030. Cuomo announced in his 2017 State of the State address that New York aims to develop up to 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind in 13 years off the Atlantic coast — enough to power 1.25 million homes.
NYSERDA representatives Doreen Harris and Greg Matzat presented information about their Offshore Wind Master Plan, which is expected to be completed and released by the end of the year. As part of the plan, the state agency is conducting more than 20 studies in a 16,740-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean. Only two percent of the study area, though, would be needed to meet the state’s goal of 2.4 gigawatts by 2030.
The first offshore wind lease for New York, a nearly 80,000-acre site off of Rockaway went to Norway-based Statoil last December.
According to Matzat, an ocean engineer and senior advisor with NYSERDA, to meet the state’s goal of 2.4 gigawatts by 2030, that would require 240 to 300 turbines, spaced one mile apart with electric cables buried six feet below the ocean floor. These turbines will also include other infrastructure to provide power for cell phone towers and internet service.
When asked by one attendee if the turbines will be visible from the shorefront, Matzat answered, “No, they will be strategically placed far offshore and will not be noticeable from the shoreline. NYSERDA is undertaking a visual impact study to make sure this is achieved. NYS will set development guidelines, including a minimum distance from shore that must be met by developers."
Community Board 14 Chairwoman Dolores Orr asked, “If the Master Plan is approved, when will the wind farms be built and will locals be given first priority for jobs?”
Harris, program manager, Large Scale Renewables at NYSERDA, responded, “The timeline is that it would take three to six projects for the Plan to be implemented. The wind farms planned for off the coast of Rockaway are in their early planning stages. If approved, projects will not start until the mid 2020s, so it’s hard to project when exactly jobs will be available. However, offshore wind is predicted to support 160,000 U.S. jobs over the next 30 years. Through the Master Plan, we are determining the current workforce and infrastructure capabilities available in NYS. NYSERDA will consider solutions to bring the most jobs and investment.”
Local Assembly District Leader Lew Simon asked, “Will we see an actual significant decrease in our electric bills? And Is NYSERDA looking at sand replenishment for the area, and will there be a noise impact from the turbines?”
Harris answered, “You will definitely see a reduction in energy costs, but it’s difficult to predict when and how much. The wind farms will have to be up and running for a while before that could be determined. No, NYSERDA will not be doing sand replenishment. And lastly, the wind turbines will be situated so far off from the shoreline, that there will absolutely be no noise impact.”
Dan Mundy, Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation, protection, enhancement and restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Jamaica Bay, inquired, “How will the wind farms affect commercial fishermen, marine life and the overall ocean’s habitat, especially with digging six feet below the ocean to install the cables.”
Matzat replied, “The state and federal government do not anticipate imposing any restrictions on fishing among or around the wind turbines. We are committed to working with commercial and recreational fishers to understand the areas important for fishing and identify strategies for turbine configurations and spacing to allow for fishing access. Regarding the impact on marine life, including birds, fish and whales and other sea life, the state is conducting studies to ensure that offshore wind is responsibly developed and will mitigate and minimize any environmental impacts. Any impact on marine habitats from installing wind turbines will be largely limited and temporary. For example, potential sediment disturbance and changes in currents will be assessed during site-specific analysis to mitigate effects. In fact, once installed, offshore wind turbines have been shown to benefit certain species of marine wildlife by creating artificial reefs that serve as active gathering points for certain fish and other marine inhabitants.”
One attendee questioned how the wind turbine blades will be maintained and the overall lifespan of the turbines.
Harris explained, “We will have crews that will be regularly deployed to maintain the blades. The turbines will have an average of a 25-year lifespan. The federal government requires that developers submit a decommissioning plan as well as post a bond to cover the cost of decommissioning activities.”
As the Q&A period was winding down, attendees were abuzz with more questions and concerns.
Matzat concluded the presentation by saying, “So far, wind farms planned off the coast of Rockaway are in their early planning stages. To date, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has leased six areas for offshore wind between New Jersey and Massachusetts. Our projected date for the completion of the Master Plan is at the end of 2017.”
For more information about NYSERDA’s Offshore Wind Master Plan and to post your comments, visit: https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/Offshore-Wind
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