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Alfonse D'Amato

On offshore wind power, let’s not get blown over


My column two weeks ago (“On energy, New York’s head is in the sand”) generated significant interest and input on New York’s proposed offshore wind power projects and their potential negative effects on Long Island’s commercial fishing industry. That led me to dig further into the subject. I believe that what I’ve learned is important to share with Herald readers and state policymakers.

The argument our fishermen and women make is that a large wind farm off the South Shore will adversely impact critical fishing grounds and interfere with commercial fishing boats’ ability to navigate and fish near the proposed wind turbines. When I started looking at this issue, I began by trying to find out how existing offshore wind farms have affected fishing grounds in their vicinity. But since there are so few of them along the East Coast, my search led me to wind farms off the European coast that have been in operation for some time.

Several of the largest of them were built by some of the same companies proposing similar ones off the U.S. coast, including off Long Island. Independent studies recorded measurable effects on fish populations during underwater construction of the wind turbines. And once construction was finished, the area around the towers was often off limits to vessels, shrinking available commercial fishing waters.

But Europe’s commercial fishermen have worked actively with energy companies, European governments and the European Union to find a balance among these competing interests. In fact, a major EU initiative has been undertaken to implement a “framework for maritime spatial planning” that will carefully map out the sharing of offshore waters with fishing and wind power uses (bit.ly/2qKYeK7).

Here in the U.S., offshore wind power is just getting under way. There are only a handful of ocean-based wind turbine farms. The planning and construction of new ones should be closely coordinated by our state and federal governments, especially as it relates to the impact on fishing. Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held up approval of a key federal permit for a wind power project supported by the state of Massachusetts, to be constructed off Nantucket, until a “cumulative impact analysis” of the project is complete.

In New York, the state government is supporting a wind power project off the South Shore. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has announced that it will provide “more than $2 million to further study important environmental and commercial fishing topics to support the responsible development of offshore wind.”

That’s a good start, but it should be combined with a coordinated effort with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to consider the cumulative impact of the various offshore wind projects in the Northeast and along the Eastern Seaboard. It’s estimated that there could eventually be several thousand of these giant wind turbines up and down the East Coast. We need to know what effect they will have on commercial fishing. And other issues have been raised about their impact on migrating bird populations as well as on military and commercial radar systems.

So, based on all I’ve learned, and what still needs to be learned, here’s what I would propose that our state and federal leaders consider:

• Don’t just pursue offshore wind projects in a piecemeal fashion. Delve into the overall environmental impacts of a long string of windmills along our eastern coastline.

• Learn from our counterparts in Europe, where wind power is more advanced and the effects on fishing and the environment are being given serious consideration.

• For our federal officials, that means taking a page from the E.U. and considering implementation of a detailed plan mapping out the relationships among wind power and other interests like fishing. The BOEM, especially, must take a wider look at wind power’s cumulative impact rather than just considering individual projects in a vacuum.

• And finally, since offshore wind power is up to seven times more expensive to produce than power from other sources, like natural gas, shouldn’t New York explore these less-costly alternatives before it commits to a new burden of higher electricity rates for New York consumers?

In sum, when it comes to offshore wind power, let’s not get blown over.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.