Developers pushing to install massive wind turbines in the waters off New York and New Jersey have run into a delicate yet mighty foe: the Atlantic sea scallop.
Prized for their sweet and tender meat, scallops are abundant off Long Island and the Jersey Shore. That happens to be where the Trump administration wants to auction leases for offshore wind farms for what’s envisioned to be a $70 billion U.S. industry.
Efforts by fishermen to block the wind farm projects could have sweeping implications for both seafood lovers and the push to bring clean energy to the most densely populated corner of America. The area in the Atlantic, which could fit enough windmills to power all of New York City, is home to some of the world’s richest scallop beds. And erecting turbines nearly as tall as the Chrysler Building could make mollusks much harder to harvest.
“It’s an insane amount of ocean to occupy, and it will leave a trail of destruction,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.
The U.S. has trailed Europe and Asia in developing offshore wind. But New York, New Jersey and other states are pushing to catch up, envisioning turbines at sea as a way to bring clean power to crowded coastal regions. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already sold more than a dozen leases for sites from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Next year, it wants to auction more, including in areas encroaching on the prized scallop beds.
The federal government has already trimmed the size of the area. Slashing it more could raise development costs and threaten aggressive plans by New York and New Jersey to source electricity from offshore wind farms. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed targeting 9 gigawatts by 2035, enough to power up to 6 million homes. New Jersey has a goal of 3.5 gigawatts by 2030.
“The U.S. is the biggest offshore wind opportunity outside of Europe,” Sunny Gupta, head of new market development at Orsted AS, the world’s largest offshore wind developer. “We’re not here just to build projects, we’re on track to build an efficient regional supply chain. Don’t do it small.”
Plans for offshore wind farms have run into all kinds of resistance, including from bird lovers, whale advocates and shipping companies. But the scallop lobby could be the biggest threat yet.
The prospect of development in the wide triangle fanning out from Hudson Bay, called the New York Bight, has galvanized fishing interests that didn’t aggressively oppose the first round of lease auctions. They have a growing war chest they could use to fight the second round.
“The New York Bight affects our fishermen more than the other leases,” said Ed Anthes-Washburn, executive director at New Bedford Port Authority in Massachusetts, who has also worked as a consultant for wind developers. “We took in $300 million last year and 80% of it was scallops. The bight is loaded.”
For its part, New York’s energy research and development agency said the state is committed to working with stakeholders and ensuring that all interests are considered in building offshore wind farms. The department said in an emailed statement that the state has worked extensively with fishers to determine ways that offshore wind and commercial fishing can “co-exist.”
From the start, federal officials have tried to “balance key existing uses” with wind farms to head off potential conflicts, said Stephen Boutwell, a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spokesman. The agency even hired the Consensus Building Institute, a non-profit conflict-mediation organization, to facilitate negotiations as it trimmed back the lease area.
Ross Tyler, executive vice president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said he wants the process to move faster but is hopeful the efforts will avoid a court fight.
“It’s better that they take their time and get the details right,” Tyler said, “and we avoid litigation.”
–With assistance from Anne Reifenberg and Hannah Recht.