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Biden administration approves first offshore wind farm to supply power to New York

The approval of 12 turbines east of Long Island moves the Biden administration closer to its clean energy goals. But it still faces strong head winds before achieving them.

The silhouette of a wind turbine standing in the water off Block Island, R.I. (Eric Thayer/Bloomberg)
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President Biden’s administration greenlit a major offshore wind project to supply power to New York, arriving as part of a broader push to build out renewable energy and tackle climate change.

The federal government’s approval Wednesday of a dozen wind turbines, located off the coast of Rhode Island, will send power to the eastern end of Long Island. The move inches the country closer to the Biden administration’s goal of generating 30 gigawatts of power from offshore wind energy by the end of the decade. Harnessing the Atlantic’s fierce winds is prominent in the president’s plan to wean the U.S. power sector off fossil fuels, which are dangerously warming the planet.

But the Biden administration still faces stiff head winds ahead of meeting its clean energy goals. The effort to dot the East Coast with towering turbines has at times put advocates at odds with coastal homeowners worried about spoiled seaside views; fishermen concerned about the impact on their catch; and conservationists concerned about the impact on endangered whales.

Biden wants to move energy offshore, but choppy seas are ahead

At the moment, only seven commercial turbines — five in Rhode Island and two in Virginia — are up and spinning. Europe, by contrast, has already deployed over 5,000 offshore turbines.

The South Fork Wind project, located about 19 miles off Block Island, R.I. and 35 miles east of Long Island, will generate about 130 megawatts of power once complete, enough to supply electricity to about 70,000 homes. Construction on an underground transmission line could begin as soon as January, with operations set to start at the end of 2023.

Though closer to Rhode Island, the project will be the first wind farm to provide power to New York, a state with the significant climate ambition of getting all of its power from carbon-free sources by 2040. The announcement issuing a “record of decision” from the Interior and Commerce departments drew praise from the state’s Democratic leaders.

“The offshore wind industry will create thousands of union jobs, reduce air pollution, and combat climate change — the greatest existential threat facing our communities on Long Island,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), who represents a district in Long Island.

The wind project is a joint venture of Orsted, a Danish energy giant, and Eversource, a U.S. firm supplying power in New England. The companies still need to receive permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other regulators to move forward with work off Rhode Island.

Democratic officials hope the offshore wind expansion is a boon for unions in particular. Orsted is working with a coalition of construction trade unions to hire their workers when possible, though the turbines themselves will be made overseas by the European firm Siemens Gamesa.

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This is the second major offshore wind project in federal waters approved under Biden. Last week, developers and dignitaries broke ground in Massachusetts on the first — the Vineyard Wind project near Martha’s Vineyard — where waterfront property owners had long fought offshore wind development.

With wind farms proposed from New England to the Carolinas, the Biden administration is planning to review at least 16 other commercial offshore wind energy plans by 2025. The approval process on several of those projects stalled under President Donald Trump, who often criticized wind blades for striking and killing birds.

The announcement comes as Biden tours the country to promote his recently passed infrastructure bill. But a second bill with big financial incentives for erecting wind turbines, installing solar panels and buying electric vehicles is still winding its way through Congress.

That budget bill passed the House earlier this month but faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has expressed skepticism toward several of its clean energy provisions.

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