Capital Region ports to benefit from offshore wind development

July 19, 2019 05:54 PM

New York is investing billions in offshore wind development. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced agreements with two developers for two downstate wind farms on Thursday.

The two farms off the cost of Long Island will produce nearly 1,700 megawatts of power combined. Once finished, the farms will provide electricity to nearly 1 million homes in New York City and Long Island.

Experts with New York State Energy Development and Research Authority said it’s a good first step toward to procuring 9,000 megawatts by 2035, now mandated by law.

Developers selected for the Empire Wind and Sunrise Wind projects are both interested in working with the Port of Coeymans and the Port of Albany. Developers are looking to invest in infrastructure upgrades to those ports, as well as several others in New York City, Staten Island and Long Island.

Alicia Barton, President and CEO of NYSERDA, said each project will probably cost around $3 to 4 billion, though we won't know exact numbers until construction contracts are finalized. The funding will come from ratepayers across New York.

They’re significant investments, but Barton said wind costs have fallen significantly in recent years.

"We believe that offshore wind is going to be a very competitive resource over time,” Barton said. “These projects already have blown us away with the fact that they are much lower than we anticipated just a year ago in terms of what the prices would be."

Darren Suarez, Senior Director of Government Affairs for the New York State Business Council said waiting to invest in wind, the way New York did with solar, could mean even bigger savings.

"In the end we actually have a very robust solar program and we did it less costly than some other states,” Suarez said. “We probably could do something similar in offshore wind."

Barton said the projects are expected to generate 1,600 jobs and $3.2 billion in new investment. The state is also investing $20 million in workforce training through State University of New York programs.

“We believe that New York will be poised to provide the components and the workers to serve not only these two projects but projects outside of New York State as well,” Barton said.

Barton said the average New York ratepayer will pay less than $1 more per month to cover the cost of the projects. Suarez argued the manufacturers he represents will have to budget millions more to cover increased operating costs.

Suarez is also concerned about New York ratepayers chipping in and receiving little to no direct benefits initially. He said the Public Service Commission could help mitigate that by implementing a system that would dictate a different commodity price based on when electricity is being used.

Suarez said manufacturers who contribute to the project costs but don’t use energy during peak times should be given some sort of break or concession on their rates.

Suarez also took issue with the fact that the PSC voted to lump the cost of the project in with commodity and service charges on ratepayer’s bills.

“It won’t be called out as a line item on the bill,” Barton said. “But when we publish the prices, we will publish the equivalent ratepayer impact. So we will say, “This is equivalent to this many cents on your electricity bill.’”

Some in Long Island are still concerned about the environmental impact.

“There still are concerns from some of the fishermen particularly in scallops and what could be basically affected in terms of their own bays, but there’s also some concern about bringing those transmission lines ashore,” Suarez said.

Barton said those are details NYSERDA is watching closely.

“We do believe those are important considerations and we are going to hold the developers to a very high standard for making sure that these projects deliver entirely on their promise by providing clean energy, creating local jobs, but also minimizing and avoiding environmental and commercial fishing impacts as much as possible,” Barton said.

Both Barton and Suarez said the primary concern is balancing cost and benefit, both economically and environmentally.

“We want to make sure that it's balanced with concern about cost,” Suarez said. “So we can source everything at a much higher cost and then it could benefit a few and cost a many. We want to make sure we are sort of meeting the right balance."

Barton agrees, but she believes the benefits outweigh the initial implementation costs.

"When you put the costs alongside the benefits it's really a much more balanced comparison when you think about all the jobs, all of the economic investment and everything else that will benefit here in New York,” Barton said.

Barton said the hope is to have construction begin in 2021 and have the wind farms serving the NYC area by 2024.

From there we will have to see how batteries and energy transmission technology develops. The hope is that new technology will enable wind power to eventually serve the entire state of New York.


Emily Burkhard

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved