Despite Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s long-expressed dream of putting wind turbines on skyscrapers and bridges, the constraints of an urban landscape have so far proved too challenging for reliable wind power in the city, energy experts said. As a result, New York City has been largely inactive — and behind the national curve — in embracing wind power.
But that is about to change. This spring, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection will solicit plans for the first major wind project, the installation of turbines atop the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island. And city planners are working on zoning changes, now under review by the City Planning Commission, to allow turbines up to 55 feet high on the rooftops of buildings taller than 100 feet, and even taller turbines on commercial and industrial sites along the waterfront.
But the biggest potential for supplying wind power to the city lies offshore, where the Bloomberg administration is supporting an application filed last September by a coalition led by the New York Power Authority to lease a swath of the ocean floor for a wind farm 13 miles off the coast of the Rockaways in Queens.
City officials say they are ready to take advantage of their coastal proximity to seek bigger renewable-energy projects and quicken the pace toward cleaner air and the jobs and economic benefits that would accompany those projects. A study commissioned by the city last year said wind farms could play a major role in replacing power now generated by the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County. The plant supplies up to 25 percent of consumption in Consolidated Edison’s service area, including New York City.
“When you’re talking about huge wind, offshore is really a unique opportunity,” said Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The proposal for the offshore wind farm, which is scheduled for a public hearing before the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management next month, is considered a game changer in that it would start at 350 megawatts but have the potential to double its capacity — eventually generating enough electricity to power a half-million homes in New York City and Long Island.
The plans are in the initial stages, but they are part of a push by states along the Eastern Seaboard to make wind power a significant staple of their energy mix. The region lags behind the West and Midwest, where flat, open spaces are plentiful and wind turbines already supply up to 20 percent of electric power in some states.
“We certainly have an ocean in our backyard that can host these turbines,” said Katherine Kennedy, clean-energy counsel at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If we can develop wind and solar, all of a sudden we look like a European city.”
Through most of the last decade, turbines have been springing up all over the country, including in dairy farms in upstate New York. As a result, New York State, which has set a goal of deriving 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, now ranks 12th among the states in wind power installations, with 1,400 megawatts, or enough to meet 2 percent of the state’s electricity demand, says the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.
Some states got a lift this month when federal officials from the Department of the Interior cleared the way for companies to seek federal leases in wind-energy areas off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, speeding the process to approve wind projects.
Environmental groups say New York has been less focused on tapping into wind than some of these neighboring states but this year the New York Department of State is expected to identify the most viable locations for offshore wind farms with an eye toward protecting shipping, commercial fishing and ocean habitats — an approach that experts say should save time and red tape and help attract developers looking to begin such a project.
Long processes to win approvals and the higher cost of wind compared with less sustainable sources of electricity are not the only obstacles to developing wind installations. The projects must also withstand public scrutiny. Despite support from environmental groups, the only federally approved offshore wind project to date, Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Cape Cod, has been stalled, in part by opposition over aesthetics and the impact on American Indian artifacts and burial grounds, among other issues.
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, opposed a proposed wind farm three-and-a-half to five miles off Jones Beach in Long Island over concerns about the potential harm to fish. The project was ultimately derailed in 2007 by high costs. Ms. Brady said the proposal off the Rockaways, while farther offshore, was still worrisome. It calls for at least 70 wind turbines that could each soar 430 feet above the water.
“The biggest problem we have is that there’s really no science to either support or negate wind power as something that wouldn’t affect the fish negatively,” she said. “If there’s a problem, once you’ve done the damage, who’s responsible?”
While more expensive to produce than wind power, solar energy is more suited to cities, energy experts said, because it can be harnessed more discreetly from thousands of rooftops. New York City has so far grown its solar production to seven megawatts, a modest amount but well over its practically nonexistent wind production. This runs counter to what is occurring in the rest of the state and the country, where wind installed capacity, 46,000 megawatts, vastly outpaces the 3,800 megawatts of solar.
Some New York buildings are already experimenting with private wind production, like the Eltona apartments in the Melrose section of the Bronx. But they have found that they do not get enough wind to make turbines a reliable source of power. City planners are revising zoning regulations to allow more private turbines, but still concede that wind turbines may not thrive here unless they are on or near the shore.
City officials say the former environmental wasteland known as Fresh Kills is an ideal location. The Department of Environmental Protection will, in the next two months, ask for wind and solar proposals to develop 75 acres of the landfill, with the goal of adding 15 megawatts of energy, enough to power 3,300 homes. Officials said at least a third of the production would be wind power.
The Fresh Kills plan could double the city’s solar output, but it is the wind turbines that excite the Staten Island borough president, James P. Molinaro, who has lobbied for a wind farm for years, and persuaded the state to finance a study that showed the site could support seven 400-foot turbines.
City officials say it has taken them this long to evaluate the challenges of installing wind turbines on the landfill’s unique subsurface.
Fresh Kills closed as a landfill handling the city’s residential garbage more than a decade ago and is now undergoing a transformation into a 2,200-acre park.
“It’d change the biggest tragedy that ever happened to Staten Island and convert it to something wonderful,” Mr. Molinaro said. “Windmills that would give us clean energy in a beautiful park. It’d be a model for the rest of the world to look at.”