ALBANY – The Cuomo administration, which last year scuttled as too expensive a plan to construct the nation’s first wind energy farm in the Great Lakes, is putting its offshore focus in an area 15 miles into the Atlantic Ocean off New York City.
Now questions are arising about whether Lake Erie and Lake Ontario will ever be tried, at least by the current administration, as a source for the renewable form of energy generation.
The new state energy “blueprint” released last week in Albany presents a clear preference to focus efforts on a state wind farm plan off the Rockaways in New York City. It comes seven months after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an agreement with President Obama and governors of Great Lakes states to develop offshore wind farms more quickly.
State officials insist they are not closing the door on Great Lakes wind generation. But they also say there has been little interest from developers and much concern over the high cost of trying to place turbines not only far from the state’s main energy demands downstate but also on bodies of water that freeze during winters – such as Lake Erie – or in the deeper waters of Lake Ontario.
“We are open to develop Great Lakes offshore projects,” said Gil Quiniones, the president of the New York Power Authority and point person involved in developing an energy planning blueprint presented to Cuomo last week at the Capitol.
For now, offshore projects are far more expensive than land-based wind farms, said Quiniones, whose agency late last year killed a plan – citing at least $1 billion in potential costs – to place up to 150 turbines offshore between Buffalo and Chautauqua County.
Environmental groups say the Cuomo administration missed an opportunity with its new energy plan to focus more on renewable forms of energy, including Great Lakes wind projects, and that the new blueprint will send a sour signal to wind farm energy investors.
“We’re at a crossroads in this state. We see power plants on the verge of retirement and the decisions we make today are going to have an impact for decades. The failure to include Great Lakes wind as part of our wish list is a failure of the plan,” said Brian Smith, program and communications director at the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a statewide advocacy group with offices in Buffalo.
Smith said the new energy blueprint offered only “lip service” to future wind development.
“This is certainly not a signal to offshore wind developers that New York is open for business,” he said.
The scuttled Great Lakes plan was backed by many environmental organizations but opposed by a number of shoreline communities for a host of reasons, including backlash from residents who did not want waterfront views to include large turbines on the horizon. And state officials said the costs to build and maintain the turbines would have been long-term money losers for ratepayers.
“Great Lakes wind projects would be extremely difficult and very expensive,” said Senate Energy Committee Chairman George D. Maziarz, a Newfane Republican.
While Lake Erie is not as deep as Lake Ontario, making development costs potentially lower, Maziarz said community protests were heard by regulators and politicians alike. “The local communities were up in arms in opposition to it. I would think it would be a nonstarter,” Maziarz said of future Great Lakes wind projects.
The Cuomo administration’s energy blueprint released last week said high costs make offshore wind development “not expected in the near term.” The New York Power Authority, along with power companies on Long Island and New York City, has a licensing application under way with federal officials to begin the process, though, of developing an Atlantic Ocean project off Queens. The blueprint said the Great Lakes Offshore Wind project, killed last year, “suffered from inadequate site and resource information along with premature issuances of a competitive solicitation.”
Now, the document states, the state should “pursue more targeted site assessment” for wind with a focus on the Atlantic Ocean projects “in order to best leverage limited state-level funding,” it said.