The US Is Turning an Area Half the Size of Rhode Island Into a Wind Farm

The Biden administration’s largest offshore wind auction is happening today.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is entering the second day of a long awaited sale of nearly a half-million acres of land for offshore wind infrastructure. 

488,201 acres of land off the coast of Long Island and New Jersey—a region known as the New York Bight—went up for sale at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Over the course of the day, six regions of land were offered to an approved list of 25 bidders that include oil and gas giants like Equinor and BP, and a number of smaller, local renewable energy companies like Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind and Bight Wind Holdings.

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14 of these approved bidders showed up, the BOEM told Motherboard. Bids are ongoing, updated live on the BOEM website, and, across the six regions, have ranged from $4.3-million in the first round to $410-million in the 21st round. Bidding will continue on Thursday at 9 a.m.

It’s the largest area ever offered in a single auction, estimated to result in 5.6 to 7 gigawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 2-million homes, per a press release the Department of the Interior issued with the announcement of the auction in January. Deb Haaland, secretary of the interior, called the move a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to fight climate change and create good-paying union jobs” in the announcement. 

“We are at an inflection point for domestic offshore wind energy development,” Haaland said in the release. “We must seize this moment – and we must do it together.”

The sale serves the Biden-Harris administration’s broader aim to build more than 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030; more than half of this will come from New York and New Jersey, the release says. 

It also serves longstanding calls from the wind industry to make part of the mid-Atlantic available for leasing. Developers haven’t seen the New York Bight up for auction since 2016, per E&E News.

But the idea of turning the Bight into an offshore wind farm hasn’t always been popular; in January, the non-profit Save Long Beach Island filed an injunction to stop the BOEM auctioning off land without a sufficient environmental impact statement. Per the nonprofit's website, the group’s aim is to move the farm further from the Jersey coastline, an attempt to lessen their visibility, protect the seashore, tourism industry and population of endangered North Atlantic whales it supports.

“The New York Bight Wind Energy Areas, as well as related Wind Energy Areas located immediately south of the New York Bight, lie within habitat used by various marine animals that have been listed as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered,’” the lawsuit reads. “Save Long Beach Island and its members have a legally protected interest in preserving the listed species that are native to the New York Bight and likely to be harmed by the proposed offshore wind arrays.” 

The BOEM told Motherboard that it will conduct “a comprehensive environmental review” up to federal standards of every proposed project that comes its way, and that this process will include opportunity for public input. The agency denied a request for comment on the Save Long Beach Island injunction, specifically.

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