Schumer, PA Williams Push Windmill Plan for Sunset Park


Like reverse modern-day Don Quixotes riding on the steeds of progressive public opinion, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams came to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park yesterday looking to build and not destroy windmills.

Specifically, the lawmakers along with City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-Red Hook, Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights and portions of Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights, and Boro Park), and Uprose and New York Environmental Justice Alliance leaders, are pushing for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to invest $200 million into the offshore wind development program at the publicly-owned terminal.

“This fall, the community pushed back a proposal of rezoning of Industry City. They said it was essential for economic growth, and while the economic gains suspected, the collaborative losses would’ve been devastating. What we see so many times before in these types of rezonings is that it benefits a few people at the cost of the people who live in those communities,” said Williams. “All the ‘progressives’ want and all the community wants are jobs and in exchange for that the community is not harmed.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams says the green energy initiative could bring thousands of jobs to Sunset Park. Photo by Ariama C. Long.

Williams said that this clean energy proposal was the original intention of SBMT property, not the rezoning or Industry City shops.

The wind development program would establish a local wind turbine assembly center, intended to create thousands of jobs and generate more than 1,500 megawatts of clean energy. New York is obligated by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) to achieve its renewable resources goals by 2030. The act requires that 70 percent of the state’s electricity come from clean energy and that 35 percent of benefits go to frontline communities, like Sunset Park, said Schumer.

Realistically speaking, said an Uprose member, the program would start in 2022 and start benefiting the community by 2024.

“One of the three things we’ve been trying to do is preserving our planet by stopping global warming, creating good paying jobs, and making sure that poorer communities and communities of color, that have suffered the most under climate change, get help,” said Schumer. “This proposal does that.”

Schumer said that the city has also already committed to a $57 million investment for key upgrades to the SBMT. The extra $200 million would be funneled into green job creation with fair wages and benefits for the nearby communities. The city-owned SBMT is one of 11 ports around the state pre-qualified for up to $200 million in loan and grant funds from NYSERDA under the Wind Empire Port Infrastructure Improvement Plan. The funds would be matched by private firms looking to build and operate turbines across the city and state.

To be eligible to submit a proposal to NYSERDA, bidders are required to submit a Port Infrastructure Investment Plan with their requests for New York State Funding which must be matched with private capital investment in the same Eligible Port at the following levels:

  • Reimbursement-Based Grant Funding must be matched $1.25-for-$1.00 ($1.25 of private capital for every $1.00 of Reimbursement-Based Grant Funding), and
  • New York State Assisted Financing must be matched $0.75-for-$1.00 ($0.75 of private capital for every $1.00 of New York State Assisted Financing).

If selected for an award, the Port Infrastructure Investment Plan will be translated into contracts with the State for delivery of the upgrades and associated investments.

In Schumer’s recent letter to NYSERDA, making the case for the project, he said the SBMT can already be outfitted to house a large wind turbine assembly center on its waterfront. “It is located in the largest Industrial Business Zone in New York City, and the largest waterfront site, and is well-suited to accommodate the shipping, construction, and maintenance needs of offshore wind installments,” wrote Schumer about SBMT.

“Behind us, you see SBMT, 72 acres of city-owned properties that seven years ago was in the middle of a court battle to regain control over the future of this piece of property. The community watched as the judges reviewed the court order that would’ve had this roll-on, roll-off car dealership,” said Menchaca. “They went out of business. The city made the wrong deal with the wrong organization.”

Menchaca also noted that SBMT already has one turbine, seen in the far distance of where the press conference was held with flocks of birds swarming around the warehouse in front of it.

The lone wind turbine at the SBMT in Sunset Park. Photo by Ariama C. Long

The SBMT turbine cost $750,000 to build and is over 160 feet tall. It was built to help power the neighboring SIMS Municipal recycling plant on the pier next to Industry City, and can generate up to 100 kilowatts per hour with steady winds of about 10 miles per hour, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story. The push for that singular turbine began in 2008 and was finally operating by 2015, reported the Post-Gazette. 

Menchaca estimated that the newly constructed wind turbines would be “100 times bigger” than the one at the waste plant. Part of the turbine assembly center would be located at Pier 39, in between Industry City mall and the recycling plant, where the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team’s (DMORTs) COVID-19 mobile truck morgues continue to be housed. 

He also briefly addressed the usual environmental drawbacks to wind energy, namely the effects on bird habitats and general collisions. He said that there have been studies that recommend innovative lighting and reflective designs to reduce the risks to the local wildlife. 

There are multiple port locations currently bidding for this investment, including the Arthur Kill Terminal (AKT) on Staten Island.

“As part of New York’s nation-leading approach to growing offshore wind generation, $200 million in matching funds has been made available to upgrade and retrofit port facilities to further advance this burgeoning industry. NYSERDA is actively evaluating bids as part of this project and expects award decisions to be made early next year,” said a NYSERDA spokesperson in response to KCP inquiries.