For years, New York officials have envisioned powering the region from a set of huge wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island. But well before an offshore wind farm would be up and running, giant turbines may soon be spinning much closer to the city.

Within three years, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hopes to have five wind towers, each more than 280 feet tall, operating on the west side of New York Harbour. Nearby, the city of Bayonne, N.J., plans to install an equally large turbine to power a sewage-pumping station. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is considering placing wind turbines on or near its hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

New York, it turns out, is a windy city, well suited for turning stiff breezes into electricity. If open space were not so rare, the city might be a prime spot for harnessing the wind, said Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority.

Ambitious

“Anybody who's ever stood out at the dock in Weehawken waiting for a ferry just knows it's a very windy area,” Baroni said. “Apparently, it's a pretty good place to put windmills.” In 2008, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced his plan to use wind power to help reduce the city's dependence on power plants that run on fossil fuels. So far, there are no large-scale efforts to harness the wind in the city, only token projects like the small turbines on the roof of an apartment building in the Bronx and a wind-powered electronic billboard for Coca-Cola in Times Square.

The city's Economic Development Corp. has been studying the feasibility of putting turbines atop buildings, including a warehouse at the Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the Bronx. But the high hopes rest on a partnership, with utility companies and the New York Power Authority, that has designs on building a wind farm on about 65,000 acres of the Atlantic floor. The New York consortium said at the end of June that it would apply for a 25-year lease on the site, with hopes of generating as much as 700 megawatts of power there by 2016.

While city officials navigate the logistical and political shoals of that ambitious plan, other agencies are pressing ahead on more solid ground.

The Port Authority's proposed project at Port Jersey on the border of Bayonne and Jersey City would be similar, in appearance and purpose, to a wind farm that was built at a sewage-treatment plant in Atlantic City five years ago. The authority is seeking suggestions from companies that might be interested in managing the project on how to set up the turbines. Baroni said it could be operating by 2013.

When the winds are high, the five turbines would produce as much as 7.5 megawatts — enough to run at least 2,000 homes, he said. The authority plans to use the power generated to operate the container port there, then to feed the surplus energy into the local power grid, offsetting some of the authority's consumption elsewhere.

“This is a commitment the Port Authority is making to reduce our carbon footprint and be better neighbours,” Baroni said. “It will allow us to both save money and also be good for the environment. Somebody's got to go first, and it's going to be us.”

But the city of Bayonne may tap the wind quicker. Construction of a 262-foot-tall turbine has already begun at a plant operated by the city's Municipal Utilities Authority. That $5.6 million tower, which would be the biggest wind turbine in New Jersey outside of Atlantic City, is expected to start producing more than enough energy to power the plant by September. The city plans to sell the excess power, saving at least $1,50,000 a year, said Stephen J. Gallo, executive director of the utilities authority.

“It will be iconic,” Gallo said. “It will be the first windmill in New York Harbour. You'll be able to see it from anywhere on the water.”

Master plan

Both projects in Bayonne would help New Jersey achieve its stated goal of developing 200 megawatts of wind energy onshore by 2020. The state's energy master plan also calls for producing 3,000 megawatts of wind energy offshore within 10 years.

In late 2008, the state's Board of Public Utilities provided $12 million in rebates to three companies that are racing to build the first wind farm 12 miles or more off the coast of New Jersey. At the end of last month, the state Legislature approved a bill that would provide $100 million in tax credits to the developers of offshore wind farms.

But those deep-water projects would cost about twice as much to build as turbines on land, wind-energy developers say. Baroni declined to say how much the Port Authority expected to spend on the wind farm it plans to build at Port Jersey, but he said New Jersey had already offered $3 million toward the project. The Atlantic City turbines cost $12 million when they were erected in 2005 by Community Energy, a company based in Radnor, Pa.

Brent Beerley, executive vice president of Community Energy, said the Mid-Atlantic Coast was an attractive location for wind farms because the wind tended to be highest when demand for electricity was at its peak. The power produced also does not have to travel far to reach the consumers who pay the most for it, Beerley said.

Ideal

“It's a windy site in general, but unlike other wind farms, the time of day and the time of year that the wind blows strongest there matches when consumers use electricity,” he said. “We have very strong summer winds and daytime winds.”

The wind power generated in Atlantic City has sold at “relatively good” prices, and the project has exceeded its revenue targets so far, Beerley said. He added that the second important benefit that wind farms generate is federal tax credits, which attract big banks to invest in the projects.

Without that incentive, it would be difficult for private developers to finance a project like the one the Port Authority is proposing. Beerley, who said his company might bid to build the project, said it appeared to be feasible and potentially beneficial to the metropolitan area.

“It's a real amount of power and it will offset a significant amount of fossil fuel use locally,” he said.

The idea is not universally popular, though. On July 8, the Board of Freeholders of Monmouth County, N.J., decided to oppose the construction of a wind turbine at a wastewater treatment plant in the Raritan Bay shore town of Union Beach after a resident fanned dissent with a website, www.noturbine.com.

And what about the appearance of five fans as tall as 30-storey buildings forming a swirling backdrop to the Statue of Liberty?

Baroni, a former state senator from central New Jersey, said people actually liked to gaze at the big turbines. In Atlantic City, he said, casino-hotel guests often request rooms that offer a view of the wind farm atop the sewage plant, instead of the ocean and beach. — © New York Times News Service

More In: Comment | Opinion