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Officials look to Port of Albany as NY secures offshore wind contracts

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaking at the Port of Albany Friday.
Jesse King
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaking at the Port of Albany Friday.

As part of a daylong visit, the U.S. Energy Secretary joined New York officials at the Port of Albany Friday to celebrate the finalization of contracts for two offshore wind projects in the state.

Governor Kathy Hochul says the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has secured contracts with Equinor and bp for two additional wind farms off the coast of Long Island. The 1,260-megawatt Empire Wind 2 and 1,230-megawatt Beacon Wind projects were provisionally awarded last year as part of NYSERDA’s second offshore wind competitive solicitation.

Congressman Paul Tonko, a fellow Democrat from the 20th District, and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who toured a number of renewable energy projects in the Capital Region Friday, joined Hochul for the victory lap.

“In 2017, I was addressing a global conference on offshore wind. People from all around the world came to this facility. It was Manhattan, about 6,000 people I'm told," says Hochul. "And I stood there with the audacity of a New Yorker...I said 'We will be the future of clean energy.' Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future."

For New York, the new projects bring the state closer to its goal of achieving 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035, and a zero-emission electricity sector by 2040. For the Capital Region, it means jobs. The contracts include a commitment to $644 million in public and privately-funded port infrastructure, including a long-discussed, $357 million wind tower manufacturing facility at the Port of Albany in Bethlehem. Last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a $29.5 million grant for the facility, and the Bethlehem IDA is lining up nearly $1 million in state sales tax exemptions for the site.

Granholm estimates the facility, which would ship its product down the Hudson River, could create over a thousand jobs.

“This big facility that will be built, [will] require construction workers and tradespeople. You can see the towers that will be built, which will require specialized manufacturing workers. You can see the longshoremen who will position and put them on the barges," she explains. "Here we go, over a thousand jobs that will be here. 500 in construction, 550 permanent jobs.”

To that end, Hochul also announced Friday the first awards from the state’s Offshore Wind Training Institute. LaGuardia Community College and Troy’s Hudson Valley Community College are set to receive more than $560,000 combined for early workforce training and development initiatives.

This all comes amid an increased focus on renewable energy nationwide, particularly on offshore wind projects. President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which passed the House but has stalled in the Senate, would invest hundreds of billions of dollars in climate-related programs.

Earlier this week, the administration greenlighted the auction of nearly half a million acres off the coasts of New York and New Jersey for offshore wind – an area known as the New York Bight. The Interior Department estimates projects in the Bight could generate 7 gigawatts of energy, enough to power nearly 2 million homes. Developers are expected to bid on six lease areas of the Bight in February.

Granholm and Tonko agree that continued investment is needed to see these projects through and stave off the worst effects of climate change.

“We are very bullish on the climate provisions becoming law," says Granholm.

“I would say, obviously, the goal here, the optimum, is Build Back Better. Great provisions when you complement that to the infrastructure bill," adds Tonko. "But we’re also in the midst of our appropriations bills, we’re hoping to do an omnibus bill in the next weeks or couple of months. So, history will dictate here. If we get the Build Back Better, that’s a home run. Otherwise, if there are essential needs, incentives that are required, they can be taken up at the appropriations table.”

New York has five offshore wind projects in active development, and plans to open its third competitive solicitation early this year. The Empire Wind 2 and Beacon Wind projects are expected to enter into commercial operation in 2027 and 2028, respectively.

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."