Three wind energy development companies have asked the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to make the federally controlled sea floor off the South Fork available for wind farm leases.
The BOEM is currently considering whether to create new lease areas for wind farm development on the sea floor in several large sectors off the shores of Long Island and New Jersey available to would-be wind farm developers.
Last year, the agency put out a “call” to developers for nominations of possible new wind farm locations—effectively asking development companies to point to areas where they would be interested in putting wind farms. The call areas are regions of sea floor where conditions are suitable for the placement of turbines—bounded by depth contours, shipping lanes and legal boundaries that cleaved the space into four sectors.
One of the four sectors that BOEM is considering lies directly south of the entire South Fork. Called “Fairways North” in BOEM documents, the sector starts about 18 miles south of the South Fork and extends out to more than 30 miles from shore in some portions. It stretches from approximately south of Moriches Inlet east to approximately south of Montauk Point.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, or NYSERDA, had considered the same four areas for possible wind farm lease areas in 2017 and 2018 and ended up recommending that Fairways North and another area off Eastern Long Island not be used for wind farm development. Instead, they chose to favor the two much larger, westernmost areas in the New York Bight, where hundreds of turbines could be built closer to the New York City metro area.
But BOEM did not drop the eastern areas from consideration when it held its call, and three companies submitted rough proposals for developments of wind farms—ranging from 30 turbines to dozens.
Avangrid Renewables, an Oregon-based wind developer that already owns a lease area southeast of Block Island and has an 80-turbine wind farm called Vineyard Wind in the works, submitted the broadest proposal, calling for filling nearly the entirety of the Fairways North sector with more than 100 turbines. The company also submitted nominations for large swaths of the other three call areas.
East Wind LLC, a subsidiary of a German company, Energie BadenWürttemberg, submitted a nomination calling for more than 100 turbines in the Fairways North sector.
The smallest nomination came from Horizon Wind, which proposed just 30 turbines—its only nomination pitch to BOEM—in a sector of the call area farthest from the shores of the South Fork.
Ross Thomas, one of the principals of Horizon Wind, said his company intentionally proposed siting turbines as far offshore as possible to minimize the visual impact.
“We are not a big oil company—we are a few guys who saw an opportunity here, but know that a wind farm closer to land would be a no-no, especially in that area,” Mr. Thomas said, noting that one of his partners is from the North Fork. “Visibility would be minimal because we’re so far out—between 20 and 25 miles—and because the fans would mostly be pointing southwest. So, really, only the silhouette of the monopoles would be visible. We don’t want to industrialize the area.”
While East End residents have been debating offshore wind in general as the proposal for the South Fork Wind Farm advances, visual impacts have rarely come up, because that 15-turbine farm would be more than 30 miles southeast of Montauk and not visible from its shores. They likely would be visible from the shores of Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—however, at about the same scale as the Block Island Wind Farm’s five turbines are from Montauk Point.
But the thought of major developments that would be visible from Hamptons beaches has stirred very different impressions of the proposals.
“There are plenty of areas where they can be farther over the horizon,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who has been a strident supporter of the South Fork Wind Farm proposal, said this week. “That’s why I supported [NYSERDA’s] approach to keep the lease areas offshore, where the visibility wouldn’t be an issue. Any opportunity you have to mitigate people’s concerns, you have to take seriously and try to tailor the lease areas, whether it’s commercial fishing grounds or visual aesthetics.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, whose family owns a motel in Montauk with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I love that feeling on the beach when you look out at the ocean and you can actually see forever,” he said. “A lit, fixed structure, I think, would change the numinous experience of going to the beach. You’re on the edge of this vast thing, and it gives you perspective of how small you are—but pop some structures in there, and that mystical element is forever changed.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he has asked in his official capacity that the Fairways North region be dropped from consideration for wind farm development multiple times.
A BOEM spokesman said that the nominations, regardless of how many are made for a call area, do not mean that the call area or parts of it are guaranteed to ever be made available for leasing.
The nominations are weighed along with the comments from the public regarding concerns about given areas. Overall, there were eight companies that submitted nominations to the four call areas, and 132 members of the public who submitted comments, including at a public forum in Amagansett last year.
“BOEM continues to analyze the comments received,” a statement from BOEM reads, “in order to identify future wind energy areas in the New York Bight that balance key existing uses, regional energy goals, and anticipated future uses based on the best available information.”
The spokesman said that the agency would be announcing its findings for new lease areas at some point this year.