The federal government has removed two contested offshore wind-energy areas off the Hamptons from its upcoming lease sale of waters off Long Island’s South Shore, citing conflicts with commercial fishing, shipping and lack of commercial viability.
The move, first reported by Newsday Wednesday, was applauded by critics of the prospective Hamptons wind farms, which would have been seen 15 miles from shore. “That’s excellent news,” said Jay Schneiderman, supervisor of Southampton Town, who opposed turbines off the East End.
Instead, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, during an online task force meeting Wednesday, focused on a series of wind-energy areas to the west and south for its upcoming lease auction, officials said during the meeting. In all, the federal government is proposing to lease some 627,333 acres of water off New York and New Jersey in an area called the New York Bight. The two proposed areas off the Hamptons, known as Fairways North and Fairways South, won’t be offered for lease sale, said Luke Feinberg, project manager for BOEM.
“Fairways North and South were not considered for leasing at this point due to maritime traffic issues, commercial fisheries, and, for Fairways South, commercial viability regarding the size,” Feinberg said.
Excluding the areas off the Hamptons, BOEM identified eight areas of around 80,000 acres in the New York Bight that it said could produce 7,600 megawatts of wind energy, enough to power 2.7 million homes. Most are nearer the New Jersey coast, while two, called Hudson North and Central Bight, are nearer to Long Island. BOEM already has leased around 80,000 acres in the Bight for Equinor’s Empire Wind project, scheduled to be built by 2024. It will be around 15 nautical miles from the coast, starting near Jones Beach.
New York State and several East End public officials had expressed opposition to the two Hamptons areas originally proposed in a draft leasing map by BOEM earlier last month.
NYSERDA chief: Fairways areas ‘suboptimal’
In a Newsday interview last week, Doreen Harris, newly named president and chief executive of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, called the Fairways areas “suboptimal,” in part because of viewshed issues, and said the state believed enough power could be gained from the remaining areas to meet the state’s goal of 9,000 megawatts by 2035.
NYSERDA said the state “continues to discourage the leasing of the Fairways North and South sites” due to maritime and “fishing conflicts and distance from shore being less than the state’s request of no new lease areas closer than 18 nautical miles from any coastline.”
Opposition to Hamptons wind farms
It wasn’t just local and state officials who opposed the Hamptons wind-energy areas.
George Detweiler, a specialist speaking for the U.S. Coast Guard at the meeting, said the agency “wasn’t very comfortable” with Fairways North and South areas off the Hamptons, and may recommend the areas “probably should not be considered for development” in the future.
BOEM director Amanda Lefton, former assistant secretary for energy and the environment to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, told the task force the agency “removed areas of the highest conflict from consideration” in the lease sale. BOEM has already leased around 1.7 million acres in the Atlantic, she said, and the New York Bight area will play a “central role” in the Biden administration’s goal of a 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, enough to create 80,000 jobs and $12 billion a year in capital investments.
She added, “Our desire to move forward will not outpace our steadfast desire to do this right.”
But one key stakeholder group boycotted the task force meeting. Commercial fishing groups represented by the advocacy group Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, in a letter to the task force, said they were “sitting out” the meeting, noting that past efforts to engage “resulted in effectively no accommodations to mitigate impacts” from developers and government.
“Individuals from the fishing community care deeply but the deck is so stacked that they are exhausted and even traumatized by this relentless assault on their worth and expertise,” the letter states.
At Wednesday’s session, officials said commercial fishing interests were among the reasons the two Hamptons areas were excluded.
But a March 26 memorandum by BOEM’s chief of renewable programs, James Bennett, to BOEM director Lefton, who concurred, recommended both wind-energy areas off the Hamptons, saying they were delineated “as a result of balancing several factors, the most prominent being commercial fishing, navigation, and commercial viability.” Stephen Boutwell, a BOEM spokesman, didn’t directly respond to a request to explain the about-face in just over two weeks. An April 14 paper by BOEM excludes both Hamptons areas.
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