The largest offshore wind farm in the United States is one step closer to becoming a reality.
The 90-megawatt project planned near Long Island, New York, would be only the second offshore wind farm to operate in the country, which lags way behind Europe and China when it comes to offshore wind.
The wind farm cleared a major hurdle on Wednesday after Long Island’s public utility unanimously approved a long-term contract to buy its electricity. Without this deal, the project’s developers would have a harder time convincing banks to finance the wind farm’s construction.
“This is a big day for clean energy in New York and our nation,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, the wind farm’s developer.
“There is a huge clean energy resource blowing off of our coastline just over the horizon, and it is time to tap into this unlimited resource to power our communities,” he said in a statement to Mashable.
While Europe and China have installed thousands of wind turbines in their waters in recent years, the U.S. has built only five. Over the last decade, a handful of proposed U.S. offshore wind farms were canceled or indefinitely delayed.
State and federal agencies initially lacked regulations and guidelines for such projects, which caused set-backs, as did lawsuits from local opposition groups. Utilities were reluctant to sign contracts for offshore wind power, which is generally more expensive than on-shore power. Banks and investors were skittish when it came to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on projects they weren’t sure would pay off.
After its own fits and starts, Deepwater Wind won the race to build America’s first offshore wind farm in August, with its 30-megawatt project near Block Island, Rhode Island.
The company’s new 90-megawatt project will stand in federal waters off Long Island’s South Fork Peninsula.
Deepwater Wind said its $740 million installation will have up to 15 turbines and produce enough power to light up roughly 50,000 homes. Depending on the permitting schedule, construction could start as early as 2019, and the wind farm could start operating as early as 2022.
The company envisions developing an additional 210 megawatts in the area, which would bring the Long Island wind farm to 300 megawatts when completed.
The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) signed the 20-year power purchase agreement with Deepwater Wind on Wednesday largely to help meet its targets for increasing renewable energy supplies.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month set a statewide goal to develop up to 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind projects by 2030. The target — enough to power about 1.25 million homes — is a vital piece of Cuomo’s vision to get 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs from renewables within 13 years.
LIPA’s decision “in particular is going to really be remembered as a pivotal moment in launching the offshore wind industry in New York, and probably on the East Coast,” Lisa Dix, the Sierra Club’s New York State campaign director, told Mashable.
Sierra Club and other environmental organizations have been pushing state policymakers and utility companies to embrace offshore wind as part of the state’s clean energy future.
In densely populated areas like New York City and Long Island — where land is at a premium — turbines spinning in the water offer one of the few realistic options for providing large amounts of renewable electricity to energy-hungry communities.
Offshore wind proponents also teamed up with major labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and International Brotherhood of Electric Workers. Towering offshore turbines include thousands of components that must be assembled at ports, providing a potential boon for local manufacturing, supporters say.
Gov. Cuomo said in a statement that the planned South Fork wind farm would “create high-paying jobs” while helping to advance New York’s efforts to combat climate change.