Posted on January 18, 2023
While approaching Wainscott Beach on Long Island’s South Fork in early December, one could see the most tangible aspect of offshore wind’s New York progress even before hearing the crash of waves: three pillars, each about as tall as the Statue of Liberty, jutting up from the ocean. They were the legs of the Jill, a liftboat from the Gulf of Mexico stationed about a third of a mile off the coast of Long Island’s South Fork.
The structure—more of a giant platform than a seagoing vessel—provided a station from which workers drilled a tunnel horizontally beneath the beach, making room for a cable that will function as an extension cord to bring to land electricity from an eventual sea-based wind farm.
Previously, the Jill did this kind of job for gas and oil projects, but last month it was used for South Fork Wind, New York’s first offshore wind development. The project is expected to power 70,000 homes in East Hampton when the blades of its 12 turbines—electricity-generating windmills—start rotating later this year.
South Fork Wind is poised to become the second offshore commercial wind farm in the U.S. So far, Rhode Island is the only state in the nation that has turned its offshore wind dreams into reality with the Block Island Wind Farm, five turbines that produce enough electricity to power 17,000 homes—about a quarter of South Fork’s capacity.
‘THE FIRST WAVE’
“It’s really important that we finish this on time, that we do a great job, because it’s a signal to the community and to the broader industry,” said Jennifer Garvey, head of New York market strategy at Ørsted, developer of the South Fork project along with Massachusetts-based utility Eversource Energy. “[It’s] a trailblazing project for New York, for the industry. It’s the first wave of many,” Garvey said on Wainscott Beach this December.
The pioneering effort provides a test case for the possibilities of a wind-powered future for the state and for the country. Several projects planned over the next few years for New York would expand the scope even further. Under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 (CLCPA), New York State has committed to developing 9 gigawatts of offshore wind-produced electricity by 2035—enough to power over 6 million homes, the most ambitious target in the country.
This puts New York at the forefront of an emerging trend along the East Coast, where states from Massachusetts to Maryland are preparing to become wind energy producers. For city dwellers, offshore wind may seem like a pipe dream—far from our shorelines and even farther from the present—but the nascent wind farms could deliver clean electricity to the five boroughs, create thousands of jobs, and revitalize old industrial areas.
“Although the projects take a number of years to actually be constructed, the benefits really begin to accrue very fast,” says Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). “This is a situation where if you blink your eyes, you miss something.”
In addition to requiring 9 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2035, the state’s climate law calls for 6 gigawatts of solar by 2025, and 3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2030. These lofty targets are critical because CLCPA mandates that New York must get 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and have a carbon-neutral electric grid a decade after that. NYC specifically is also required by local law to green its grid by 2040.
The hope is that reducing the reliance on burning fossil fuels for electricity will result in air-quality improvements that could improve people’s health and decelerate global warming.
It’s a tough proposition, as fossil fuels generate nearly all of the electricity powering New York City. But the ocean at our doorstep provides a fertile site for building large-scale renewable power projects to generate immense quantities of emissions-free electricity. If the state can indeed develop the projects fast enough.
The Jill motored away from Long Island in late December, after the drilling work for South Fork Wind finished nearly a month before schedule. Other projects, however, are still in the process of permitting and environmental review.
South Fork Wind is a “proof of concept,” according to Fred Zalcman, director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, a coalition of pro–wind power entities. “It’s the first really large-scale project to be permitted in federal waters. It’s really blazed the trail for the Sunrise, Empire, and Beacon Wind projects that will soon follow,” he says. “It’s also helping to begin to lay the foundation for a regional industry.”
On the heels of South Fork Wind, an offshore wind project called Sunrise Wind—also developed by Ørsted and Eversource—is slated to be operating by 2025 and will power about 600,000 homes. After that, three more projects off the southern coast of Long Island, known as Empire Wind 1 and 2 and Beacon Wind, are expected to become operational in 2026, 2027 and 2028, providing power for about 2 million homes.
Those last three projects, by wind developer Equinor and oil and gas company BP, will directly serve New York City’s electricity needs, plugging into substations in Long Island, Gowanus, and Astoria. Those projects will represent about half of the state’s current goal of 9 gigawatts of offshore wind power. In July, NYSERDA opened a process to solicit applications for another offshore wind project of at least 2 gigawatts, to be awarded early this year.
Beyond that, the offshore plans may balloon as the state charts out how to meet its climate mandates. In mid-December, environmental and labor groups sent a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, calling on her to significantly increase offshore wind targets.
A GUST OF JOBS
In the meantime, New York City is the center of a flurry of activity to build the supply chain and prepare the labor market to staff the industry. NYSERDA estimated that developing offshore wind will create more than 10,000 jobs across the state, from planning the projects to assembling and building them, to maintaining them. By 2030, the state predicts about 6,000 people will work in offshore wind—mostly in construction and manufacturing—compared with just 400 in 2021.
Within the city, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has committed $191 million to efforts “to ensure that when construction does actually begin, when these wind farms are actually operational, that New York City folks can really benefit from this these investments,” says Nse Esema, EDC’s vice president of smart and sustainable cities.
EDC fund recipient LaGuardia Community College, for instance, is one of several public institutions developing an offshore wind certification program so students can land roles operating and maintaining wind farms. The program will include Global Wind Organization safety training, with lessons on working at heights—turbines can be upwards of 800 feet tall— and surviving at sea, among other skills. According to Hannah Weinstock, LaGuardia’s senior director of workforce development, she expects courses will start in late 2023 or early 2024.
“We’re talking to the developers and the manufacturers. We want to line up the training to align with when they’re ready to hire these jobs,” Weinstock says. “I’m hoping that these will be really well-paid, quality jobs and that we’ll have opportunities for folks who may have been left out in the past of the economy to get into the middle class and support their families.”
LaGuardia is also working with Kingsborough Community College and New York City College of Technology to plan a curriculum designed to expose teens to the industry and allow them to explore the related jobs, starting in mid-2023, according to Weinstock.
Around the state, a network of ports will be the backbone for much of the physical and economic activity supporting the wind industry. Sunset Park’s South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, leased for use by Equinor, is gearing up to become a hub for operations and maintenance of the Empire Wind and Beacon Wind farms—and possibly others in the region. Construction is set to begin by 2023’s end and will also bring a learning center for job training.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Sunset Park-based climate justice organization UPROSE — a key player in securing the deal with Equinor—is organizing to ensure the communities that have endured environmental hardships can participate in and reap the benefits of the industry. “How do we navigate our way through a future that’s so uncertain? Well, the best thing to do is to create deep and meaningful partnerships with people on the ground, to make sure that there’s deep democracy and that we’re creating community wealth,” Yeampierre says. “It can’t be thought of in a silo, as simply an economic opportunity. It has to be thought of as a model of what a just transition can look like.”
The EDC has launched an initiative to support minority- and women-owned businesses’ involvement in the offshore industry. With Equinor, it is accepting applications for grants to foster training and education for “historically marginalized” communities. Equinor and other partners in June opened up a program to help startups expand wind-related tech solutions.
On Staten Island, the EDC contracted with a developer to transform the city-owned Rossville Municipal Site—home to two liquefied natural gas storage tanks—to a place where workers will manufacture and assemble turbines. And just south of Rossville, below the Outerbridge Crossing, another facility for assembling wind farm components is in the works: Construction of the Arthur Kill Terminal should begin in the fall if it’s granted necessary permits, with a plan to open in 2025.
“If you look at the demand up and down the east coast for offshore wind port space, it far outstrips the supply that will be there,” says Boone Davis, CEO of Atlantic Offshore Terminals, which is developing Arthur Kill Terminal.
That site, for which the company received a $48 million federal grant, is the only port in the New York Harbor that’s not height-restricted by bridges, which means turbines and other large parts can be put together to the maximum extent possible and transported out to sea for the massive wind catchers.
Time will tell how the promises play out, but back on the sands of Wainscott Beach, with her back against the wind, Garvey of Ørsted appraised what’s already been done. “It’s awesome— are you kidding? I’ve been working on this project since 2017,” she says. “I think it’s really come to fruition in the way we explained that it would.”