The New York State Public Service Commission on June 14 said that it has accepted the environmental review of policy options to implement a New York State offshore wind program.
The commission noted that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his 2018 State of the State address, announced plans to solicit at least 800 MW of offshore wind power in 2018 and 2019. The commission also noted that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) in January released the Offshore Wind Master Plan, which is designed to “guide the responsible and cost-effective development of 2.4” GW of offshore wind by 2030.
Concurrent with the issuance of that master plan, NYSERDA finalized an offshore wind policy options paper, which provided an assessment of alternatives for addressing a wide range of policy issues pertinent to the successful deployment of offshore wind energy, the commission said. Those options were provided to ensure that the state continues its progress to meet the governor’s goal of procuring at least 800 MW of offshore wind power through competitive solicitations in 2018 and 2019, and 2.4 GW by 2030, the commission said.
The commission said that in its June 14 decision – as part of a mandatory environmental review developed under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) – it found a number of positive outcomes associated with the development of offshore wind, including public health benefits, climate change benefits, and economic development benefits.
The environmental review also raised potential impacts, such as the need to consider sensitive biological resources, and mitigation measures to lessen those impacts, the commission said, adding that it will take into consideration those impacts, which can be addressed in site-specific environmental impact statements as project development proceeds.
According to the May “Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement [(GEIS)] for Procurement of Offshore Wind,” prepared for the commission by the New York State Department of Public Service and Ecology and Environment, Inc., the proposed action under consideration is the procurement by 2030 of 2,400 MW of offshore wind energy capacity through a competitive mechanism with the ability to meet the delivery requirements of the renewable energy standard (RES).
The procurement contemplated by the proposed action is meant to encourage the development of new offshore wind energy projects in the Atlantic Ocean, the GEIS noted, adding that those projects, if developed, could be undertaken in a broad range of scenarios with countless variables, including:
- The geographic area of the marine environment – offshore between Maine and North Carolina
- Project timing – 2018 to 2030
- Project scale
- Project technology
Therefore, the GEIS said, it is not possible at this stage to meaningfully assess the specific potential environmental impacts of future offshore development under the SEQRA. Given those circumstances, and consistent with certain regulations, the GEIS is broader and more general than a site- or project-specific EIS, and it identifies potential areas where environmental impacts could be caused by the construction and operation of new offshore wind energy projects.
The GEIS added that the commission anticipates that those areas of potential impact will be studied in the future, as part of the environmental review conducted for offshore wind energy development and/or transmission projects at the time they are proposed. Those project-specific reviews would assess, at a site-specific level, all relevant potential environmental impacts as required under SEQRA, the GEIS said.
The environmental setting of the GEIS focuses primarily on the marine environment, which includes the submerged lands, subsoil, seabed, and water under states’ jurisdiction and federal jurisdiction – termed the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), the GEIS noted. The marine environment also includes the geographic regions defined by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) as the North Atlantic OCS and Mid-Atlantic OCS, the GEIS said, adding that those are the offshore areas from which offshore wind energy can reasonably be expected to be transmitted to New York State. Where applicable, the GEIS said, the environmental setting includes not only that broad geographic area, but also waters offshore of New York State.
The generic analysis addresses those resource areas potentially impacted by development of offshore wind energy, including biological resources – benthic communities, marine mammals and sea turtles, fish, and birds – as well as marine commercial and recreational uses and vessel traffic, cultural resources, socioeconomics, and visual and aesthetic resources, the GEIS said.
On a generic level, the potential for cumulative impacts includes the displacement, disturbance, or loss of habitat for marine mammals and sea turtles; sensory disturbance to fish; conflict with use of space for commercial and recreational vessels; and displacement, disturbance, or loss of habitat and mortality/injury to birds, the GEIS said.
Of displacement, disturbance, loss, or conversion of habitat, for instance, the GEIS said that sensitive marine mammal and sea turtle species known to occur in offshore waters of the United States could experience an increased chance of collision with vessels. Operation generally would result in minimal noise and vessel traffic, and the spacing of wind turbines could be arranged to allow most marine mammals and sea turtles to experience typical foraging and reproductive behaviors, thereby minimizing loss of habitat, the GEIS said.
Studies on how operational noise may impact marine mammals and sea turtles are ongoing, the GEIS said, adding that smaller marine mammals and sea turtles in particular are likely to return to prior habitat after construction, particularly if the presence of offshore wind energy leads, as expected, to new habitat and increases benthic and fish communities.
Of injury/mortality of marine mammals and sea turtles, the GEIS said, for instance, that with respect to waters offshore New York State, impacts to the North Atlantic right whale, fin whale, and humpback whale could occur due to vessel collision. Recent surveys indicate that sea turtles are also common across the OCS waters offshore New York in summer, the GEIS said. While sea turtles show a potential preference for the slope of the OCS and coastal areas, they may be present in waters offshore New York State, the GEIS noted.
According to the GEIS, measures that would avoid, minimize, or mitigate, to the extent practicable, potential impacts on environmental resources from offshore wind energy development include:
- Adhering to appropriate setbacks to minimize potential operational and visual impacts
- Conducting proper assessment of existing resources and potential impacts on resources
- Utilizing appropriate lighting design and controls to minimize off-site illumination
The GEIS also said that the proposed action could result in direct benefits in the form of economic development, workforce employment, and the avoidance of adverse health outcomes. The proposed action also has the potential to lead to secondary benefits in the form of development of emerging technologies, a new source of coastal tourism, indirect jobs associated with construction and operation, purchases of local products and services, as well as new and increased tax payments by employees and facilities, according to the GEIS.
Of workforce benefits, for instance, the GEIS said that regional commitment to scale offshore wind development could lead to nearly 5,000 jobs in the manufacturing, installation, and operation of offshore wind facilities.