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Offshore Wind Energy Hopes Brighten Sunset Park Outlook After Industry City Unplugged

UPROSE Executive Director Elizabeth Yeampierre speaks at a press conference calling for the state to invest $200 million to turn the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into an offshore wind port and clean energy hub, Oct. 28, 2020.
UPROSE Executive Director Elizabeth Yeampierre speaks at a press conference calling for the state to invest $200 million to turn the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into an offshore wind port and clean energy hub, Oct. 28, 2020.
Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

Powering hopes for new jobs for Sunset Park, some local opponents who helped unplug Industry City expansion plans are urging the state to select a nearby port as a hub for its big bet on wind turbines.

Area grassroots organizations joined construction unions Wednesday to pitch the city-owned South Brooklyn Marine Terminal as a wind turbine assembly plant — one of 13 ports around the state potentially under consideration in a bidding process being overseen by the state Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

The winning ports are in line for up to $200 million in loan-and-grant funding from the state, to be matched by private firms seeking to erect giant turbines that will ultimately operate in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, Long Island or New England.

“This is a piece of a larger vision” for the waterfront, said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the Sunset Park climate justice organization UPROSE, standing at the intersection of 39th Street and 1st Avenue, near the terminal.

A wind turbine in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Oct. 28, 2020.
A wind turbine in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Oct. 28, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The area, she noted, has a long history as a manufacturing center, one that community-based planning efforts had sought to build on to ensure blue-collar employment. She contrasted that to some of the office jobs she said the failed Industry City rezoning would have brought in.

“We need to revitalize our industrial sector so that it’s serving future needs,” she said.

Her group and others, including the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and ALIGN, a labor-backed green jobs campaign, say wind power could bring “thousands” of jobs to the long-dormant port.

Powering a Half Million Homes

South Brooklyn Marine Terminal is co-run by Industry City and the Red Hook Container Terminal, under a lease from the city Economic Development Corp. The site has already been named publicly by one major player in wind energy as its hoped-for New York City nexus.

On Oct. 20, the deadline for applications for Round 2 of NYSERDA’s wind energy proposals from around the globe, the Norwegian firm Equinor announced that it would use South Brooklyn Marine Terminal “for construction activities and its operations and maintenance (O&M) base going forward.”

The energy company already has one New York wind project in the works after winning one of two awards in the state’s first round of wind projects last year. The awards came as part of a climate action plan that aims to have 70% of the state’s energy produced by renewable sources such as wind by 2030.

Equinor’s Empire Wind Project, an offshore wind installation on federal property south of Long Island, 30 miles from the New York Harbor, will produce an estimated 816 megawatts of energy for New York City with an expected start-up date by 2024, Equinor said last year. That’s enough energy to power half a million homes in the city.

Equinor and NYSERDA did not respond to requests for comment from THE CITY. “The U.S. offshore wind industry is poised for expansion and we are passionate about creating substantial value in the New York market,” Siri Espedal Kindem, president of Equinor Wind U.S., told Reuters last week.

Equinor’s interest in leasing 65 acres of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal for construction of the offshore wind project was first reported by Crain’s New York Business last summer.

Industry City did not respond to requests for comment.

The developers behind Industry City’s sprawling expansion plan threw in the towel last month after four Brooklyn members of Congress joined the opposition, which was led by some local organizations, including UPROSE.

Supporters said the plan for a mixed-use development would have brought thousands of jobs, while opponents argued the project would have caused displacement of longtime residents via gentrification of the area.

Ports in a Storm

Of the 13 port sites NYSERDA listed as eligible for selection for wind operations, four are in New York City — the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Port Ivory and Arthur Kill Terminal on Staten Island.

The Sunset Park location is the “only site” in the state suitable for the assembly and transport of offshore wind turbines, according to UPROSE organizer Ting Ting Fu.

Eddie Bautista, who leads the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said building a wind-energy operation there would be a win-win for the state.

“It’s not often that you can build your way out of a crisis” such as the coronavirus, Bautista said. “This investment for South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to be an offshore hub for the Northeast is one of those opportunities that is within our grasp.”

Jeff Vockrodt, who leads the labor union coalition Climate Jobs New York, told THE CITY that the jobs created at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal site would likely require skilled workers. He added that apprenticeships among labor unions would be an “adequate model” for training.

The state’s plan encourages energy firms to team with unions via project labor agreements. Equinor has already announced a commitment to one such agreement with Long Island construction unions for the first stage of Empire Wind.

Also present at the event was Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who cheered on the plan and its promise of job creation.

“A few weeks ago, this community came together and said that it wouldn’t just accept anything in terms of the Industry City rezoning,” he said. “And that then was mischaracterized as if progressive people don’t want jobs for their community — and nothing could be further from the truth.”

“What was said then is what we’re talking about now,” he added. “This project brought forward by NYSERDA is exactly what this area was designed for.”

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