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Agreement on plan to develop offshore Great Lakes wind farms

ALBANY – New York and four other Great Lakes states have struck a deal with the Obama administration to more quickly develop offshore wind farms, a state official said this morning.

The agreement comes just five months after New York state shelved a massive wind turbine project in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. That plan, which was to have been the first wind farm located offshore on any of the Great Lakes, had envisioned as many as 150 turbines stretched offshore between Buffalo and Chautauqua County.

The memorandum of understanding is intended to streamline the process for developers to get approvals for wind turbine projects located on the waters of the Great Lakes.

Five Great Lakes states – New York, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania – signed the agreement with the Obama administration. Three other Great Lakes states – Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin – did not sign the deal, but could at a later time, according to the Associated Press.

“The Great Lakes have the potential to provide clean energy from offshore wind and related green jobs in upstate New York,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

“This MOU offers a responsible mechanism for enhanced and efficient collaboration among federal, state and local interests in evaluating processes and proposals for development of this resource,” the governor said.

The agreement notes that each megawatt of offshore wind power produced could produce up to 20 jobs. It said New York has the potential for at least 143,000 megawatts of wind power production off its Great Lakes coastlines.

The Buffalo News obtained a copy of the agreement that states all sides are intent on promoting “expeditious, orderly and responsible review” of wind turbine applications for the Great Lakes.

The agreement calls for all the participants to come together to develop a report addressing “the regulatory challenges” involving wind turbine siting matters and to create a “regulatory roadmap” for wind development.

The MOU states the federal government believes the lakes could supply 700 gigawatts of energy – “representing a substantial portion of the nation’s total gross offshore wind resource.”

The agreement does note the potential pitfalls, both environmental and concerns raised by many residents along coastal communities over views being obstructed by large wind turbines.

“Offshore wind ventures must be evaluated against potential social or environmental, safety and security impacts and fully considered by the appropriate federal and state regulatory and resource agencies,” the MOU states.

The deal reserves approval rights to individual states.

The New York Power Authority last year scrubbed as too costly the wind farm proposal for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The authority said the development would cost the state as much as $100 million annually in subsidies. The project was to have cost as much as $1 billion to construct and generate up to 500 megawatts of electricity – enough to power about 130,000 homes.

Communities across the Great Lakes areas came out in opposition to that scuttled project, which the state proposed in 2009.

Any final agreements would not be binding or subject New York to any legal obligations, state officials cautioned. Local governments would still retain approval rights.

The deal also was signed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency and nine other federal agencies.

The MOU notes the different missions of the broad range of stakeholders signing the deal. For the Pentagon, defense officials would review any offshore wind projects to ensure they do not “adversely affect Defense activities.”

For the U.S. Coast Guard, the interest is to “protect the navigable waters of the United States,” while the Federal Aviation Administration has an approval process for any structure taller than 200 feet, the MOU states.

Officials in New York said no additional government workers will need to be hired to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

Terms of the MOU expire in five years.