Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a contract with Equinor Wind US to develop two new wind farms off the shore of Long Island. The $8.9 billion investment will yield a combined 2,490 megawatts of carbon-free energy.
As part of the agreement, Equinor will create a wind turbine staging facility and operations and maintenance hub at the Sunset Park site, as well as an offshore wind tower manufacturing facility at the Port of Albany.
When the wind farms are complete, more than half of the state’s electricity will come from renewable sources, which puts the state ahead of schedule to reach its goal of 70 percent renewable energy by 2030.
The projects in Brooklyn and Albany represent a combined $644 million investment, and will yield 2,600 short and long-term jobs, according to the governor.
“These projects will not only create power but bring needed economic opportunity to struggling parts of our state, create green jobs and make New York State a global wind energy manufacturing powerhouse,” Cuomo said.
Equinor, an energy company that has powered more than one million European homes with renewable offshore wind from four projects in the U.K. and Germany, will invest in port upgrades at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal.
At 73 acres, it will be transformed into one of the largest dedicated offshore wind facilities in the country.
The project will translate to 1,200 new jobs.
“These projects will deliver homegrown, renewable electricity to New York and play a major role in the state’s ambitions of becoming a global offshore wind hub,” said Equinor CEO Anders Opedal.
The day after the announcement, local organizations in Sunset Park discussed what the project means for their community.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, noted that the group was formed in 1966 to fight an industrial sector that was causing asthma, upper respiratory disease and cancer.
“When we first started this work, we started it because we were fighting for our right to breathe,” she said, “something that resonates highly in the racial justice movement.”
While the industrial sector has declined, Yeampierre said some factions want to use manufacturing space for recreation and high-end use, when it should be used for climate adaptation, mitigation and resiliency.
Creating renewable energy projects is not just about reducing carbon, Yeampierre said, but also about fighting climate change and the ability to thrive economically. She said the new wind energy operations facility will send a message to other industrial waterfront communities that another world is possible.
“It is possible to not only bring in infrastructure to reduce carbon, reduce pollutants, but to hire people and pay them decent wages,” she said. “It’s a win-win, it checks a lot of boxes.”
Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said the project was a result of “respectful partnership” between elected officials and community activists, leading to the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act last year.
The legislation, which Bautista declared was the “most ambitious climate law of all the 50 states,” mandates 100 percent net zero emissions across the state by 2050, renewable energy sources by 2040, and up to 40 percent of billions of dollars in clean energy funding directed toward low-income communities of color most impacted by climate change.
Born and raised in Red Hook and Sunset Park, Bautista said his father worked as a longshoreman. They both saw the decline of the manufacturing industry and the loss of blue-collar jobs in the area.
“My father would’ve never expected that when he was alive, that there would be this type of comeback,” he said. “We are back baby, and we are here for the long haul.”
Councilman Carlos Menchaca noted that the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal had been “at a crossroads” in many different ways. In 2015, however, community leaders discussed a master lease with the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
The community negotiated several demands, including only hosting maritime uses for the site, labor agreements and the creation of a task force to oversee the port’s future.
“They told us it was not possible, that the only future for Sunset Park were luxury spaces and luxury retail,” Menchaca said, in reference to the failed Industry City rezoning. “We said no. We did the work and the vision has been laid out.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called the project a tremendous win.
“What we want is people not to come from on top and tell communities what they have to get, but to come to where the community is and be part of that discussion,” he said. “When we do that, great things happen.”
Another supporter of the wind energy facility is Senator Chuck Schumer, who said the project is the result of the forces for clean energy, good-paying jobs and helping communities of color coming together.
“This is a model not just for Brooklyn, not just for New York City, but for the country,” he said. “The wind is at our back. This is the first, but not the last of many great projects.”
Julia Bovey, director of external affairs for Equinor, said that many port owners and operators from South Carolina to Massachusetts tried to lure the company, but she said Equinor never “saw anything like the movement in this community,” which preserved the port for industrial maritime activity.
“How can a company like Equinor see that and not say that’s what we want to be part of?” Bovey said. “There is a hunger for companies that are willing to make commitments, put their money where their mouth is and say we are going to hire locally, to invest in the community.
“We’re going to invest in job training and access, these are the conditions of us using this facility,” she added. “These aren’t just promises, this is a part of our rent.”