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NY regulators assess offshore wind development impacts, utility storm response

New York regulators have advanced the state's plan to develop at least 2,400 MW of offshore wind energy by 2030 by accepting a generic review of the potential environmental impacts of such development.

In particular, the New York State Public Service Commission, or NYPSC, concluded June 14 that offshore wind development would produce climate, economic and public health benefits. However, it also recognized that such development could harm wildlife and the environment, but said those potential impacts can be addressed in site-specific environmental impact statements as project development proceeds.

To help meet New York state's goal of having 50% of statewide electricity be generated from renewables by 2030, the NYPSC in August 2016 asked the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, to examine alternatives for developing an offshore wind program. The NYSERDA is the state's energy financing vehicle.

Consistent with that mandate, the NYSERDA in January released an offshore wind master plan to guide the development of 2.4 GW of offshore wind by 2030, the first step of which would be the completion of two initial annual offshore wind procurement rounds of at least 400 MW each in 2018 and 2019. In a concurrent action, the NYSERDA also issued an offshore wind policy options paper assessing alternatives for addressing a wide range of policy issues related to achieving the 2030 procurement target.

NYPSC staff then prepared a generic environmental impact statement analyzing the potential environmental impacts associated with the potential procurement of 2.4 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030. The statement is generic because the agency expects the environmental impacts to be the same for all potential offshore wind generation facilities or sites.

Meanwhile, various stakeholders recently weighed in on proposed incentives to develop offshore wind energy in New York, including the use of so-called offshore wind renewable energy credits that are tied to generation from offshore wind farms and would be purchased by load-serving entities.

The NYPSC on June 14 found that the generic environmental impact statement is complete and accepted it as such.

At the same PSC meeting, the commissioners reviewed 2017 performance reports for the state's major utilities. Excluding utilities' responses to major storms, the review concluded that the general reliability of the statewide power system improved in 2017 from 2016. However, the PSC also reported that 2017 saw almost twice as many hours of outages than 2016, driven in large part by the major March 2017 windstorm that hit the Finger Lakes and Western New York.

In a related release, NYPSC Chair John Rhodes said "some utilities have fallen short of our expectations" in preparing and responding to abnormal weather events but the PSC continues to aggressively ensure those utilities become ready.

Also on June 14, Cuomo announced a plan to spend $150 billion over the next five years on the state's infrastructure, with $32 billion slated to improving environmental facilities, rebuilding parks, and funding NYSERDA Green Bank investments in various energy programs.

The U.S. Department of Energy has also awarded $18.5 million to a New York state-led nationwide research and development consortium for the offshore wind industry. One of the aims of the new consortium is to help the wind industry prepare for the eventual end of federal government support and become self-sufficient. The consortium will be supported through public-private partnerships with the offshore wind industry, utilities, research laboratories, and other states. The four-year grant will be matched in funds from NYSERDA.