The New York Public Service Commission has ordered all electric utilities in the state to buy “offshore renewable energy credits.”

State Officially Embarks On Windy Path

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has talked up wind power for several years, got his wish Thursday, July 19, when the New York State Public Service Commission issued a 66-page order mandating all electric utilities (and other entities buying power from the grid) to purchase “offshore renewable energy credits.” The exact amount will be based on a percentage of how much power the utility is handling.

Clean energy proponents praised the PSC directive as an important step in reducing harmful emissions and moving away from fossil fuel-produced power.

If indeed New York meets its goal of filling 50 percent of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2030, it will become a darling of clean air advocates and a valuable chip in Cuomo’s future political plans.

Joe Martens, director of the New York State Offshore Wind Alliance, said, “New York has hit another major milestone in its quest. The PSC order on offshore wind procurement sets the stage for meeting Governor Cuomo’s commitment for a 2018 offshore wind solicitation and moves New York one step closer to realizing the jobs, environmental in ports and infrastructure, that would come from New York being a national leader in offshore wind.”

“This is a big step forward toward capturing the enormous potential of sustainable offshore wind power in New York,” said Kit Kennedy, senior director of the Climate & Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We look forward to helping New York become a national leader in developing this promising clean energy source in a way that’s smart from the start — protecting the ocean and creating quality jobs.”

The anticipated move toward large-scale wind generated energy has its share of critics as well. Foremost among them locally are commercial fishermen and wind power critics who maintain wind power is much more expensive than advertised and not nearly as “clean” as proponents maintain.

The Empire Group, in an article by Ken Girardin on July 16, pointed out ratepayers in some regions will subsidize the cost of wind-generated power in others. “Upstate New York ratepayers will pick up more than half the multi-billion-dollar tab for a massive offshore wind turbine project that will provide very costly power for Long Island and New York City,” Girardin wrote.

The OREC program is an end-run by Cuomo to advance his energy agenda and bypass state and local controls, his critics contend. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will use the tax credits to control the wind energy market, according to Empire Center. NYSERDA’s 13-person board includs nine members appointed by the governor.

NYSERDA will ultimately choose a company to build and run about 80 wind turbines in one of two areas south of New York City and Long Island. The project would have a nameplate capacity of 800 megawatts (MW), meaning it will generate 800 MW under optimal conditions, though in reality, effective power generated is about 43 percent of that because wind velocity varies greatly.

East End commercial fishermen are up in arms over the plans, which they say will decimate the industry.

Many fishing groups see Cuomo’s fascination with all thing wind-driven as politicizing a clean energy issue. Federal agents from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have met with East End fishing groups several times this year to discuss potential sites for wind farms. They are racing to meet a deadline imposed by Cuomo to identify potential sites for two significant-sized wind farms by the end of the year.

“To achieve the governor’s 2400 MW goal, the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority will procure approximately 800 MW offshore wind through a solicitation issued in the fourth quarter of 2018, in consultation and coordination with the New York Power Authority and the Long Island Power Authority. Awards are expected to be announced in the second quarter of 2019. If needed, a second solicitation will be issued in 2019,” stated a report from Cuomo’s office.

Offshore wind costs have declined significantly in Europe and elsewhere around the world. As the industry develops, “New York is ideally positioned to capitalize on these declining costs, economic opportunity, and renewable energy resource in support of the state’s climate goals,” the order states.

But with the clock ticking, the first project slated for Long Island waters is still in its infancy phase. There is significant opposition to a plan already in the works to construct 15 wind turbines off the coast of Montauk by South Fork Wind, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind, which is waiting to get final approval from East Hampton Town to bring a power cable ashore in Wainscott.

Simon Kinsella, who lives just down the road from Beach Lane in Wainscott, is one of Deepwater’s most vociferous critics. He suspects the wind power generated off Long Island will eventually be routed west, and Wainscott will be the hub.

The Long Island Power Authority has set aside millions to construct another substation station in Wainscott and run a cable connecting it to Shinnecock and points west, though a company spokesman said it’s a contingency plan and might not happen until 2026.

LIPA will pay Deepwater $1.62 billion over 20 years for power generated by 15 wind turbines south of Rhode Island, totaling 90 MW capacity.

The price tag isn’t the only obstacle for offshore wind. “Offshore wind would need to be backed up by energy storage or other generators in those instances when wind conditions cause decreased output,” the Empire Group said in a policy statement. “At the end of the day, the state should be pursuing a generator-blind approach to renewables that rewards desired attributes — capacity and reliability — rather than cherry-picking individual companies (and unions) to do the work.”

rmurphy@indyeastend.com