NYSERDA Completes First Phases of World's Largest-Ever Digital Aerial Survey of Offshore Wildlife Along Long Island Coast

Three-year survey of wildlife off Long Island coast will help New York State responsibly develop offshore wind projects

December 08, 2016

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced today that it has completed the first two phases of the world's largest digital aerial survey of offshore wildlife in a 16,000-square-mile area off the Long Island coast. The survey is another step in advancing Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's strategic plan, introduced in his 2016 State of the State address, to advance the development of offshore wind along New York's coastline.

New York State is home to some of the country's strongest offshore wind resources. The survey is gathering the highest resolution images ever for a project of this scale. With each pixel corresponding to 1.5 centimeters on the ground, it can identify the species for an extremely high percentages of the birds and marine animals in the images.

The survey provides baseline data as the State pursues ambitious plans to secure 50 percent of its electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030. It is an element of New York's ongoing offshore wind strategy, which also includes the New York State Offshore Wind Blueprint released in September, and the State's participation in the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) auction on December 15.

The Governor recently announced NYSERDA has been selected by the federal government to compete for the right to develop a commercial offshore wind energy lease of 79,000 acres approximately 12 nautical miles off the Long Island coast. By participating in the lease auction, the State will seek to ensure offshore wind in New York is developed at the lowest possible cost for electricity consumers while protecting the environment.

Regional-scale baseline information on seasonal wildlife distribution, abundance and movement will inform the biodiversity of development sites and contribute to responsible offshore wind site selection and development. The survey will also provide a better understanding of the potential effects of individual offshore wind projects, as well as any possible cumulative effects of multiple projects. The project is expected to expedite offshore wind development, decreasing uncertainty and reducing costs for developers while minimizing wildlife impacts and maximizing environmental benefits.

The second seasonal survey was completed in November. Combined with the earlier summer survey, more than 800,000 images have been captured including birds, whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and fish. The seasonal surveys that began in August 2016 are being conducted four times a year for three years using the latest digital and sensor technology. Surveys also map fish shoals and boat traffic. When the project is completed, it will capture almost 4 million ultrahigh resolution images.

John B. Rhodes, President and CEO, NYSERDA, said, "Under Governor Cuomo, New York State is committed to developing offshore wind with the least impact on the coastal environment and local wildlife. The aerial survey will ensure the responsible development of offshore wind, reduce costs and uncertainty for offshore wind developers, and bring forward the benefits of this plentiful and clean resource for all New Yorkers."

NYSERDA's aerial wildlife survey is being conducted in coordination with visual surveys planned by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Navy, BOEM and others, which will ensure maximum synergy in data collection and provide corroboration of species identification, distribution and behavior.

The resulting survey data will be public and shared with multiple entities, including state and federal agencies tasked with mapping and modeling wildlife distributions in the Atlantic Bight, as well as developers and regulators undertaking offshore wind site assessments.

Photos from the survey are available here.

The survey is being completed by Normandeau Associates Inc. and APEM Ltd. on behalf of NYSERDA. Normandeau is a leading U.S. environmental and regulatory consulting firm with special expertise in developing innovative technology solutions for answering biological questions. APEM is the world's leading supplier of digital aerial bird and marine mammal surveys for the offshore renewables industry, having carried out over 500 surveys.

In 2015, NYSERDA was one of six states and organizations awarded $592,683 by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) State Energy Program to advance offshore wind market development through multi-state cooperation. In addition to NYSERDA, recipients of the DOE award include the Maine Governor's Office, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, and the Clean Energy States Alliance.

About Reforming the Energy Vision

Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) is Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's strategy to lead on climate change and grow New York's economy. REV is building a cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers by stimulating investment in clean technologies like solar, wind, and energy efficiency, in part through the recent adoption of New York's Clean Energy Standard which requires that 50% of the state's electricity needs be generated from renewable energy sources by 2030. Already, REV has driven 600% growth in the statewide solar market, enabled over 105,000 low-income households to permanently cut their energy bills with energy efficiency, and created thousands of jobs in manufacturing, engineering, and other clean tech sectors. REV is ensuring New York State reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and achieves the internationally-recognized target of reducing emissions 80% by 2050. To learn more about REV, including the Governor's $5.3 billion investment in clean energy technology and innovation, please visit www.ny.gov/REV4NY and follow us at @Rev4NY.

About NYSERDA

NYSERDA, a public benefit corporation, offers objective information and analysis, innovative programs, technical expertise, and funding to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. NYSERDA professionals work to protect the environment and create clean-energy jobs. NYSERDA has been developing partnerships to advance innovative energy solutions in New York State since 1975. To learn more about NYSERDA’s programs and funding opportunities, visit nyserda.ny.gov or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram.

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