New York State May Soon Enter Race to Develop Offshore Wind Farms

New Jersey’s efforts remain becalmed, with first turbines not expected to be operational before 2023

wind farm
New York may soon be joining five other states in trying to develop offshore wind farms in the waters along the Eastern Seaboard.

The U.S. Department of Interior yesterday said it would propose a lease sale of 81,130 acres about 11 miles south of Long Island as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to exploit coastal waters as a clean-energy resource.

By the end of the year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hopes to hold a final sale for lease of the acreage, which could lead to the development of at least 700 megawatts of wind capacity — enough to power approximately 245,000 homes.

Unlike Europe, where many offshore wind farms are operating, the United States produces no electricity from wind turbines located on the outer continental shelf, although a wind farm is scheduled to be operational off Block Island in Rhode Island by the end of the year.

The Obama administration has 11 commercial offshore wind leases, including two off coastal waters of New Jersey, as part of an ambitious effort to develop 20,000 megawatts of new wind capacity by 2020. Besides New Jersey, leases have been sold off Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia.

The push to develop offshore wind has emerged as a competition among the states who are vying to attract the manufacturing and support sectors that would help build a thriving green economy in the region.

New Jersey had hoped to build at least 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020, but will never achieve that target. At a meeting in Trenton last month to outline plans for the state, developers and federal officials said it is unlikely any wind farms will be operating off the coast until 2023 at the earliest.

Still, offshore wind remains pivotal in plans by states to aggressively ramp up their reliance on renewable energy to displace conventional ways of generating electricity from fossil fuels. New York, for instance, wants to produce half of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

Abigail Ross Hopper, director of BOEM, noted the ambitious goal set by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in announcing the proposed lease sale.

“New York is really a unique opportunity,’’ Hopper said during a press call making the announcement. “Creating a market for this technology is really critical to making it happen.’’

With its dense population and high electricity rates, as well as abundant offshore wind resources, New York is an especially lucrative market for wind developers. Seven developers have qualified to participate in a lease auction, officials said.

Clean-energy advocates in New Jersey welcomed the announcement of the prospective lease sale.

“It’s important because Long Island needs electricity. The only way to get it is to build a new power plant or to put a power line from New Jersey to Long Island,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Others, however, said New York could become another jurisdiction to jump ahead of New Jersey in the race to build offshore wind farms. “New York is leapfrogging ahead of New Jersey,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

The Christie administration originally backed the idea of offshore wind in New Jersey, but has not pursued the goal aggressively because of concerns about the cost to consumers and businesses.