Posted on June 8, 2022
Fourteen miles off the coast of New York, vast fields of offshore wind turbines will soon be installed in the Atlantic Ocean. Spurred by a recent $4.37 billion federal auction of more than 488,000 acres of offshore leases in the New York Bight, these wind farms will help New York realize its 2019 mandate to generate 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
But growing an offshore wind industry will require the transformation of huge sections of the shoreline in order to construct and maintain the giant turbines. The next two city sites under development are located in Staten Island along the Arthur Kill, a shipping channel with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean, and are part of a larger plan to develop an offshore wind supply chain network in New York City.
The proposed sites – the Rossville Municipal Site and the Arthur Kill Terminal – are both currently home to wild woodlands and marshes that have grown undisturbed for decades, becoming home to vultures, deer, geese and other wildlife. They would be replaced by enormous new port facilities, for manufacturing and assembling wind turbine components.
These areas were selected because of the significant acreage needed to build the enormous components of offshore wind turbines. Wind turbine blades can be longer than a football field, and turbine towers can be 100 meters or taller. The specialized boats that deliver and install turbines also have extendable legs that can measure 100 meters.
Most bridges in the city would clothesline a turbine tower being transported out to the ocean, hence why one of the two sites — Arthur Kill Terminal — is located downstream of any bridges.
To support the construction of near-ocean turbine ports, New York City created a plan in September 2021 that would invest $191 million to repurpose publicly and privately owned marine terminals, piers, shipyards and vacant waterfront lots. These areas would be transformed into new manufacturing facilities, ports and assembly stations, where thousands of workers can build and service the enormous wind turbines.
If completed, the two Staten Island sites would join the city’s first onshore facility dedicated to supporting offshore wind farms, located at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park. In a deal brokered by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), this city-owned property will be renovated by Equinor, a Norwegian state-owned energy company, and BP, a British oil and gas company.
The site will also be a power interconnection site, where underwater cables will deliver the electricity generated at the seabound wind farms. Under state law, New York must create 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind electricity by 2035, which would power up to 6 million homes.
“The South Brooklyn Marine Terminal was obviously step one for us,” said Andrew Kimball, the President & CEO of the NYCEDC. The next step in the city’s plan is to encourage the development of several other offshore wind facilities.
“There are going to be additional power purchase agreements from the State that will result in even more port activity. That can’t be fully accommodated on the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. We have to find other port facilities,” Kimball said.
“One opportunity here”
The Arthur Kill Terminal could become one of the most important parts of New York’s offshore wind supply chain. There are few, if any, comparable sites in the region that satisfy the height and space requirements needed to assemble and transport wind towers. This project site is a privately owned, 32-acre plot of land in the neighborhood of Richmond Valley, Staten Island, located south of the Outerbridge Crossing, at the mouth of Mill Creek.
“If you think about where could such a facility exist, and you look at potential sites out there in the region, this is really the only one that makes sense in New York City, northern New Jersey and New York state,” said Boone Davis, the president & CEO of Atlantic Offshore Terminals, a private company founded in 2018 to develop industrial real estate.
Davis said his company considered 70 different sites in the region before settling on the Arthur Kill Terminal project. The port here would be used to assemble the massive towers and turbines needed for wind farms and then ship them directly out to the New York Bight, a much cheaper alternative than assembling them in the open sea.
“The southern coast of Long Island is not a place where you can build an industrial port facility. There is no land for it. It’s all residential beachfront vacation homes,” Davis added. “And New York Harbor is so developed there are really no sites like this. There is nothing left, except for this one opportunity here.”
The previous plan for this site was to build Riverside Galleria, a 457,000 square foot mall with retail shops, movie theaters, and more than 1,700 parking spaces. That plan was sidelined in 2019 after local politicians raised concerns about increased traffic.
The property is now home to a small strip of shops and businesses along Arthur Kill Road, including a veterinarian and a dog kennel, but the majority of its acreage is an undeveloped forest and wetlands.
Dirt roads circle through its dense woodlands, turkey vultures soar over wildflower meadows, and baby geese swim in shallow ponds. An unused 1,400-foot sandy beach is hidden along its shoreline on the Arthur Kill.
The Atlantic Offshore Terminals developers acknowledge the environmental impact of demolishing this wildlife area.
“Ultimately, what we are doing is so important in terms of being able to get the renewable energy, that you have to build this port. But there is an impact. We are going to fill tidal wetlands, we are going to fill some freshwater wetlands,” said Charles Dougherty, the chief commercial officer of Atlantic Offshore Terminals.
Dougherty says the company plans to spend “a lot of money” to protect and restore wetlands on other parts of the island in order to offset the impact they’re having on the Arthur Kill, but did not give a precise amount.
“The major hurdle that we are still resolving, and think we are going to resolve successfully, is getting government support for the project,” said Dougherty. “You cannot build a port in the United States today without government financial support.”
In August 2021, Empire State Development, New York state’s economic development agency, submitted an application in partnership with the developers for funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Port Infrastructure Development Grant Program. In April 2022, its application received support from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The NYCEDC has also written a letter of support for the project.
Jurassic Park vibe
Two miles north on Arthur Kill Road, in the neighborhood of Rossville, Staten Island, the NYCEDC recently wrapped up a request for proposals to develop the Rossville Municipal Site.
This unused 33-acre site has been owned by the city since 1990 and is one of its largest undeveloped waterfront industrial properties. The NYCEDC has stated that it will prioritize proposals that would redevelop this site as an offshore wind manufacturing facility, producing turbine blades and wind farm components such as nacelles, which house the inner workings of the turbine. City officials are also open to proposals to use the site for operations, maintenance, staging and assembly.
The footprint of the Rossville site is curled around a privately owned property next door, which contains two hulking, long-abandoned liquefied natural gas tanks. The site’s waterfront is approximately 23 acres, and includes 2,000 feet of shoreline access to the Arthur Kill, alongside a wild-growing forest. This section of the site is currently inaccessible due to an ongoing cleanup of illegal dumping at the natural gas site by the Bonanno crime family.
The inland section of the Rossville site is a 10-acre post-industrial wilderness, where trees and vines have grown untouched for decades, encircling several empty, graffiti-covered warehouses. A vernal pond has formed near the base of one of the natural gas tanks, flooding concrete industrial remnants. Abandoned luggage, office chairs and playground equipment hint that the woodlands here are frequently visited.
“Right now, it definitely has a little bit of a Jurassic Park vibe to it,” said Max Taffet, a NYCEDC vice president in charge of offshore wind.
On a recent visit, Taffet squeezed into the site through a hole in a chain link fence, pushing past poison ivy and peering into windowless cinderblock structures.
“The Rossville site has really been waiting for the right moment that aligns with the site’s natural features, its waterfront nature, and its location on Staten Island. It just might be that offshore wind is really the sweet spot,” Taffet said. The NYCEDC’s request for proposals ended on June 1st, and the city is now evaluating options for the site.
Along with the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, the Rossville Municipal Site and the Arthur Kill Terminal, the NYCEDC envisions a network of other facilities being constructed or activated around New York City, to support the offshore wind industry.
Due to the size needed for these types of facilities, they would primarily be located on the waterfront of Staten Island and south Brooklyn — and could include repurposing sites like the NYCEDC’s Homeport Pier on the island’s northeast shore, the privately-owned former Kinder Morgan Terminal on the Arthur Kill, and the shipyards on the Kill Van Kull and at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“Staten Island has multiple advantages,” Kimball said. “It’s easily accessible by water, there are bulkheads in place with deep water in a number of locations, there is well over 150 acres of public and privately owned industrial land right on the waterfront that has been underutilized for over 50 years.”
In the decades ahead, the NYCEDC anticipates that these onshore facilities supporting offshore wind farms will generate more than a billion dollars a year of economic activity — and create up to 13,000 jobs in the city and state. In addition, the facilities and jobs that will support these massive offshore wind installations will be necessary for generations.
“Each one of these installations has a useful lifespan of 30 years, so for 30 years, they have to be serviced, and then they are going to be replaced by the next generation of turbines,” said Kimball. “So when you look out into the future, with an economy that relies on green energy, it’s not like we are just doing that for the next 30 years. We are doing that for the next 100 years, if not further.”