Biden’s renewed push for offshore wind rankles fishing groups
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced plans Wednesday, 12 January to auction more than 480,000 acres in the New York Bight for six new offshore wind energy leases, the administration’s first wind sale and the largest lease area ever offered, with a potential build-out capacity up to seven gigawatts.
In a joint announcement with governors of New York and New Jersey, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the “administration has made tackling the climate crisis a centerpiece of our agenda, and offshore wind opportunities like the New York Bight present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fight climate change and create good-paying, union jobs in the United States.”
“We are at an inflection point for domestic offshore wind energy development. We must seize this moment – and we must do it together,” Haaland said.
New York and New Jersey state governments have set the nation’s largest regional offshore wind target, aiming for over 16 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035. Construction is to begin this year on the South Fork Wind project 35 miles east of Montauk, New York, and the Ocean Wind 1 project off southern New Jersey would be next.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says a new U.S. offshore wind industry “presents a USD 109 billion [EUR 87.3 million] opportunity in revenue to businesses in the supply chain over the next decade.” Industry advocates said the New York Bight auction will create one of the world’s biggest markets for the technology.
“These six new lease areas will draw in new investors and developers to the U.S. market and foster the competition that will catalyze major supply chain development regionally and nationally,” Business Network for Offshore Wind President and CEO Liz Burdock said. ”Sustaining this momentum is critical to the federal government to support the new but quickly growing U.S. offshore wind manufacturing base and supply chain.”
Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, called the sale “much-anticipated and long-awaited.”
“It has been more than three years since the ‘bidding bonanza’ lease sale offshore Massachusetts, and now we finally have a set date for what will be an incredible energy and economic opportunity,” Milito said. “With their large economies and massive populations, New York and New Jersey are two coastal states critical to the development of American offshore wind.”
Commercial fishing advocates stressed that BOEM needs to make avoidng and mitigating negative impacts to their industry, and the nation's seafood supply, a priority.
The waters between New York and New Jersey are some of the most productive fishing grounds on the East Coast and account for much of the East Coast’s sea scallop harvest, valued at USD 746 million (EUR 597.2 million) in 2019, according to the Fisheries Survival Fund, a fishing industry interest group. In comments submitted to the agency, the group called on BOEM to create an “adaptive and proactive” mitigation plan that will allow both fisheries and offshore wind to prosper.
“It is unquestionable that the proliferation of new turbine arrays will have detrimental impacts on the scallop fishery and other fisheries,” the Fisheries Survival Fund said. “Windfarms will and demonstrably do change ocean ecosystems. The goal of mitigation should be to strike a balance that ensures mutual prosperity, not merely an uneasy, zero-sum co-existence.”
BOEM said its initial consideration of 1.73 million acres in the New York Bight was reduced by 72 percent to avoid conflicts with ocean users and minimize environmental impacts.
“BOEM will continue to engage with stakeholders as the process unfolds,” it said.
In 15 pages of detailed recommendations to BOEM, the Fisheries Survival Fund called for “a long-term, flexible approach to reducing impacts to scallops, which are extremely sensitive to changes in the ocean environment. This approach should ensure “cohesive and meaningful coordination between fishing communities, developers, state agencies, and federal regulators,” it said.
“[The agency] must work with regional fishery management councils' technical plan development teams that are experts in conservation and management of the specific fisheries resources under their jurisdiction,” the group said. Workshops between fishermen, wind developers and BOEM “may be useful if they are interactive and not simply listening sessions.”
The group said fishermen worry about “developers conducting mere desktop exercises to simply check a [National Environmental Policy Act] box are neither sufficient to mitigate impacts comprehensively nor to compensate fisheries fully and accurately.”
The lease terms will include new stipulations, including a rule that prevents wind companies from bidding on more than one lease, and incentives to enter labor agreements with unions and use U.S.-built components.
“We applaud and thank the administration for not only promoting necessary clean energy projects, but for also ensuring that these projects lead to good-paying, unionized jobs that will directly support the communities they impact,” said Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups.
While some environmental advocates praise the lease sale plans, Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey-based ocean environment group, said it opposes the move.
“Rather than focusing on faster, cheaper, safer, better green energy solutions, the region is racing to sell-off large scale areas of the ocean to major industrial developers, including Big Oil,” according to a statement by Clean Ocean Action, a New Jersey-based ocean environment group. From its start as a local grassroots group in the 1980s, Clean Ocean Act evolved to a lobbying and legal action effort that in the 1990s pressured the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in court to end ocean dumping of harbor dredge spoils.
“This massive industrialization of this essential ocean realm is larger than anywhere in the US waters: there are already at least 550 wind turbines proposed in the New York-New Jersey Bight, not including those that would result from the 488,201 acres announced today, and these turbines will be significantly larger than any other turbines in operation in the world,” the group said. “Clean Ocean Action supports responsible and reasonable offshore wind which can play a part in climate change solutions,” the group said. “However, the leases announced today and the fast-tracking of offshore wind energy development are neither.”
In a statement issued 12 January, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a coalition of fishing companies and interest groups, which has notified federal officials it may sue to block the Vineyard Wind project in Massachusetts, called for BOEM to develop regulations that establish processes to mitigate fisheries impacts during offshore wind planning and project design.
“BOEM must develop mitigation requirements and not just guidance. There needs to be more accountability in the BOEM process,” Scot Mackey, executive director of New Jersey’s Garden State Seafood Association, a RODA member, said.
RODA also called on BOEM to conduct a more thorough study of the environmental and socioeconomic effects of large-scale offshore wind development, instead of relying solely on the public comment process to obtain information, a measure RODA deems insufficient to truly understanding the issues at stake.
“The fishing industry has consistently asked for a comprehensive analysis of environmental and biological impacts, and other issues, for the entire wind energy area. This area must be monitored and analyzed as a whole to truly understand the impact to the area,” Point Judith, Rhode Island-based The Town Dock Senior Representative of Government Relations and Sustainability Katie Almeida said.
RODA also called for an impact fee to be paid to those in the fishing industry and related industries who will be impacted by the development of offshore wind projects in the United States.
“It will take some time to develop impact fee determinations that are justified in science and equity. If existing offshore wind projects undergo final review before those are implemented, as an interim-only measure BOEM should require a reasonably-calculated set-aside for each year of operation while administrative mechanisms are developed,” it said. “While payouts can offset some monetary impacts of offshore wind, achieving the goal of long-term seafood sustainability would require those impacts to be avoided through collaborative planning and rigorous oversight.”
Photo courtesy of BOEM