NY State All Wishy-Washy On Great Lakes Wind

Is the state of New York interested in developing wind power on its Great Lakes waters or not?

The state spent a couple of years inviting proposals from companies on how they might pull power from either Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. But then a year ago, the New York Power Authority abruptly ended  the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project competitive solicitation process, asserting that the power from the projects would be way too expensive, requiring vast subsidies.

offshore wind power

image via Shutterstock

Just a few months later, however, the state joined with a handful of its neighbors in the U.S.-backed Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium, formed to “streamline the efficient and responsible development” of wind power on the lakes.

But now the state appears to be once more giving a cold shoulder to Great Lakes wind: A state task force’s blueprint for New York’s energy future concentrates on the Atlantic as a possible location for offshore wind development.

The report, released last week, says the state should “focus on obtaining valuable information and data that would benefit multiple potential offshore projects along New York’s Atlantic Coast in order to best leverage limited state-level funding.” The report goes on:

Biological, environmental, meteorological, and geological studies could be conducted, along with those in other relevant areas. In addition, an understanding of the full spectrum of benefits and associated costs will better inform the state policy decisions that will be needed for large-scale development.

A combined set of these analytical efforts will lay the groundwork necessary for easier permitting processes, and are designed to help accelerate the construction of offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean.

This implied dis of Great Lakes wind was noticed, not surprisingly, by upstate advocates for Lake Erie and/or Lake Ontario projects. Brian Smith of Citizen Campaign for the Environment, which has its headquarters in Buffalo, told the Buffalo News that “the failure to include Great Lakes wind as part of our wish list is a failure of the plan.”

A member of the blueprint task force told the News that Great Lakes wind wasn’t off the table, but even before the new document came out questions had been raised about what’s really behind the recent distancing from wind, which comes despite the fact the U.S. Department of Energy says “the development of even a small portion of the area’s offshore wind potential could create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs and generate revenue for local businesses.”

In August, the Albany Times-Union reported that the power authority had overstated by nearly double the amount of subsidy that would be necessary to purchase wind from a Great Lakes project. The paper’s report suggested that Gov. Andrew Cuomo – despite having campaigned in support of such development – had cooled on Great Lakes wind, going so far as to reject a request from the power authority to include offshore wind in his renewable electricity subsidy program.

The 116-page “New York Energy Highway Blueprint” is available online as a PDF.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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