The Promise of Offshore Wind

Wind turbines. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed off on the largest offshore wind agreement—so far—off the United States.

What has been named the Empire Wind Project—to consist of 88 wind turbines if 10 megawatt turbines are used—would rise in the ocean south of New York City, adjacent Nassau County and western Suffolk County on Long Island. The turbines would be between 14 and 30 miles from shore. It would be built by Equinor, a company headquartered in Norway.

The second is called the Sunrise Wind Project and start 30 miles east of Montauk Point in eastern Suffolk County on Long Island. It would have 82 wind turbines if 10 megawatt turbines are used. It would be built by Orsted, a Danish company, in partnership with Eversource, the largest energy supplier in New England.

Cuomo in announcing the agreement on July 18 said: “The environment and climate change are the most critically important policy priorities we face. They literally will determine the future—or the lack thereof. Even in today’s chaos of political pandering and hyperbole there are still facts, data and evidence—and climate change is an undeniable fact. But cries for a new green movement are hollow political rhetoric if not combined with aggressive goals and a realistic plan on how to achieve them. With this agreement, New York will lead the way in developing the largest source of offshore wind power in the nation,” and also, “today I will sign the most aggressive climate law in the United States of America…today we are true to the New York legacy—to lead the way forward, to govern with vision and intelligence, to set a new standard, and to match our words with action.”

Sitting alongside Cuomo was former Vice President Al Gore who commented that “our transition away from the dirty and polluting ways of the past is absolutely essential to our survival and for reasons well known to all of us here, it’s not being led at the federal level at all. But thank goodness it is being led by New York State and others that have joined with the leadership of Governor Cuomo.”

Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island—which has long urged the use of offshore wind—commented on Cuomo’s announcement: “We are witnessing a tipping point in energy history and today’s commitment to large-scale investment in offshore wind power proves that New York walks the walk of powering our economy with renewable energy.”

“Offshore Wind Farms Are Spinning Up In The US—At Last,” headlined Wired magazine in April. Its article noted that “wind power is nothing new in this country” and 56,000 wind turbines are in operation on land. “But wind farms located offshore, where wind blows steady and strong, unobstructed by buildings or mountains, have yet to start cranking”—and that is changing. A factor in that is “the technology needed to install them farther away from shore has improved…making them more palatable to nearby communities.”

Economics favors wind energy. Wired noted that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in April awarded Vineyard Wind a contract to provide electricity from offshore wind turbines “at 8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.” The average price of electricity per kilowatt-hour in the U.S. is currently more than 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

The wind—and the sun—don’t send bills. Once wind turbines are erected or solar panels installed, there’s no charge for fuel: energy blows in the wind and shines down from the sun freely.

Still, said Wired, developers of offshore wind need to “respond to concerns about potential harm to fisheries and marine life.” That issue has been raised by fishing interests and others in the Town of East Hampton where another wind farm, with 15 turbine wind farm, also east of Montauk Point has been proposed. (It’s not part of the projects just given the state OK.) Montauk Point is in the Town of East Hampton.

However, in East Hampton, too, the group Win With Wind has formed and maintains that offshore wind and fishing can be compatible. Leading figures in Win With Wind are former East Hampton Town Supervisors Judith Hope and Larry Cantwell, both with exemplary environmental records.

Offshore wind power has been booming outside the U.S. for years. Indeed, Orsted, involved also in the 15-turbine wind farm planned off Montauk Point, operates 1,150 offshore wind turbines off Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, Taiwan and Holland. “We’ve built more offshore wind farms than any other developer in the world and we’ve only begun,” Orsted says on its website. “The Orsted vision is a world that runs entirely on green energy.”

Orsted purchased Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island-based company, last year and then entered into a partnership on several wind projects with Eversource including the two off Montauk Point.

Meanwhile, Equinor says on its website: “Equinor is building a material position in renewable energy, in particular in offshore wind. We are involved in a number of significant wind projects worldwide, including four in the U.K., one in Germany, and one in the U.S.”—referring to the Empire Wind Project.

The first offshore wind farm to rise in U.S. waters was developed by Deepwater Wind. It began running off Block Island—14 miles east of Montauk Point—in 2016. It’s now operated by Orsted.

I’ve been to the five-turbine Block Island wind farm. Each turbine occupies a small footprint in the ocean. Their 240-foot-long blades revolve slowly, silently, indeed gracefully. “Awesome!” said one passenger on the boatload of officials and environmentalists. “Beautiful,” said another.

At a beach on Block Island there are cable connections, but you could not notice them. They run underground. Their only sign is a conventional manhole cover used for maintenance located in the parking lot of the public beach. Another concern expressed by some in East Hampton has involved the location of wind farm cables onto shore.

Block Island is a part of Rhode Island.

Cuomo along with approving the two offshore wind power projects also on July 18th signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed by the New York State legislature in June. The act’s provisions include requiring the state to achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2040.

A contradiction to the state’s approach is Cuomo having in recent years pushed a $7.6 bailout of four uneconomic upstate New York nuclear power plants, a bailout now underway. It is adding a surcharge on the electric bills of every individual ratepayer, business, educational and governmental entity in the New York State. It is predicated on the false claim that nuclear power doesn’t emit carbon-based greenhouse gases when, in fact, the “nuclear cycle” including mining, milling and fuel enrichment is carbon intensive and nuclear plants themselves have emissions including radioactive carbon.

Joe Martens, director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, issued a statement declaring that Cuomo’s “offshore wind announcement is an epic milestone in the New York tradition of environmental leadership….Today’s announcement demonstrates the state’s resolve to take advantage of the steady winds far off its coast to reduce air pollution, create jobs and establish New York as the epicenter of a new American industry.”

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said: “We applaud Governor Cuomo’s offshore wind announcement today—a major step toward reaching the state’s nation-leading goals of 9,000 megawatts of wind power by 2035 and carbon-free electricity by 2040.”

President Donald Trump has been extremely critical of wind power. At a National Republication Congressional Committee fundraiser in April he declared that “they say the noise causes cancer.” According to a piece by Jon Greenberg on Politifact headlined, “Donald Trump’s ridiculous link between cancer, wind turbines,” Greenberg related: “As he often does, Trump attacked wind power as an energy source…We asked the White House for evidence that wind turbine noise causes cancer. We didn’t hear back.” Vanity Fair has noted, in an article by Ness Levin headlined “Certified Moron Donald Trump Thinks Wind Turbines ‘Cause Cancer,’” that Trump “has a long history of attacking wind energy.” He “spent most of 2013 and 2014 fighting Scotland‘s First Minister” in an unsuccessful attempt to block plans for “an offshore wind farm near his Aberdeenshire golf course, telling an Irish paper that wind farms are a disaster for Scotland, like Pan Am 103.” Meanwhile, “he believes fracking poses ‘zero health risks’ and is, in fact, good for you.” Trump has stressed, noted the piece: “I know a lot about wind.”


More articles by:

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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