Long-awaited offshore wind hub breaks ground in Brooklyn

Equinor will store and assemble giant offshore wind turbines at the $861M Sunset Park facility. Residents hope the project will bring much-needed jobs.
By Maria Gallucci

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A rendering shows how the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal could look in 2026. (Equinor)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Elizabeth Yeampierre stood near the edge of the Brooklyn waterfront earlier this week. A vast concrete lot stretched out before her, riddled with weeds and rain puddles, as the Manhattan skyline sparkled in the distance. For years, Yeampierre has fought to transform this vacant expanse into a hub for clean-energy industries — one that could bring much-needed jobs to the surrounding neighborhood of Sunset Park.

Now, that’s finally starting to happen.

On Monday, construction began on an offshore wind facility at the 73-acre lot known as the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. Equinor, the Norwegian energy giant, will use the site to receive and ship out the enormous wind turbines that it plans to install in the Atlantic Ocean. When completed in 2026, the facility will be one of the largest dedicated hubs serving offshore wind, a crucial energy industry that’s slowly emerging in the United States.

It’s a landmark achievement, and it shows that we can become a model of a just transition,” Yeampierre, the executive director of UPROSE, said during a ground-breaking event. The grassroots organization primarily serves residents in Sunset Park, a largely working-class neighborhood of Asian, Latino, and immigrant communities.

An industrial sector that has had a long history in our communities of toxic exposure is now taking seriously our vision of a green reindustrialization,” Yeampierre said.

Later, she clutched a ceremonial shovel alongside New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) and other speakers beneath the blazing sun. Workers here will assemble and maintain the towers, blades, and components used for offshore wind installations, starting with Equinor’s 810-megawatt Empire Wind 1 project near Long Island. Subsea cables will connect that wind farm to the Brooklyn terminal’s new substation, delivering enough clean electricity to supply 500,000 homes.

Elizabeth Yeampierre of UPROSE (pictured far right) joins a ceremonial ground-breaking at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal on June 10, 2024. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

The $861 million project is expected to create over 1,000 union construction jobs and apprenticeships, while supporting a smaller number of permanent roles both on-site and aboard marine vessels that service the East Coast’s growing fleet of towering turbines. Community leaders say they’re watching closely to ensure those jobs actually go to Sunset Park residents as promised.

We’ve got to be on top of it,” Alexa Avilés, a New York City council member (D) who represents and lives in Sunset Park, told Canary Media on the sidelines of the event. Because it’s something that could slip by and we look back and see only a handful [of local jobs], and that would be a travesty.”

One gust forward, two blows back

Construction is starting at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal during what continues to be a roller-coaster ride for the emerging U.S. offshore wind industry.

In recent years, high interest rates, choked supply chains, and local opposition efforts have seriously delayed or ended offshore wind developments in New York and across the Eastern Seaboard. At the same time, companies continue to make progress on a handful of milestone projects. In March, Ørsteds 132-MW South Fork Wind Farm officially opened near Long Island, becoming America’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm.

All told, the United States has installed at least 240 MW of operating offshore wind capacity off the coasts of New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. That amounts to roughly 1 percent of the Biden administration’s goal of installing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by the end of this decade.

Equinor has hardly been spared from the industry whiplash. In 2019, the developer secured a long-term agreement to deliver electricity from Empire Wind 1 to New York state. But last year, as rising project costs threatened to derail the project, Equinor sought to make inflation-related adjustments to its contract with the state. Although its first attempt was unsuccessful, the company later secured a new offtake agreement with more favorable financial terms — a deal that was finalized on June 4.

This has not been an easy journey, from the pandemic to geopolitical and economic challenges,” Molly Morris, president of Equinor Renewables America, said at Monday’s event. But Empire Wind has weathered the ups and downs.”

Molly Morris of Equinor attributed the "revitalization" of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to community leaders in Sunset Park. (Tiger Stripe Media)

The roller coaster is certain to spiral even further if Donald Trump, a staunch wind-energy opponent, is elected president again in November. For now, however, President Joe Biden is working to expand the nation’s offshore wind development, including by leasing new federal tracts in the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Gulf of Maine.

Offshore wind is considered critical to solving the nation’s twin challenges of decarbonizing the electrical grid and meeting rising energy demand from big data centers, heavy industrial facilities, and electrified homes and vehicles. Almost 40 percent of the U.S. population lives near a coastline, where there’s typically little available land for sprawling energy projects — but plenty of open ocean. 

A new report by the Sierra Club found that building 9 GW of offshore wind near Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island would help meet the region’s climate goals while also saving New England residents an average of $630 million annually on electricity costs, mainly by slashing their reliance on fossil gas and heating oil during winter cold snaps, when energy prices tend to spike.

In regions like New England, offshore wind is poised to play a leading role in our transition to 100 percent renewable energy, because it blows strongest during the winter months and in the evening when it’s coldest,” Johanna Neumann, a senior director at Environment America Research and Policy Center, said during a Tuesday webinar to build support for U.S. offshore wind.

All eyes on Sunset Park 

New York state, for its part, aims to install 9 GW of its own offshore wind capacity by 2035, as part of a broader effort to achieve a zero-emission electricity sector by 2040

New York is about 20 percent of the way toward meeting its near-term goal, when counting the operational South Fork Wind farm and two contracted developments: Empire Wind 1 and Ørsted’s 924-MW Sunrise Wind project, which is also slated to be completed in 2026. Previously, the state had planned to award contracts for an additional 4 GW in offshore wind capacity, but in April, New York officials declined to finalize agreements with developers.

The Brooklyn terminal’s opening offered a reprieve from an otherwise anxious moment in the fledgling industry, both in New York and nationwide. 

A rendering of Equinor's facilities at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (Equinor)

We are going to weather these storms and come out ahead because of the extraordinary value that we know [offshore wind] will, and can, and is bringing to our state, and specifically here to Brooklyn,” Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said on Monday at the waterfront lot.

To build its offshore wind hub, Equinor struck a first-of-a-kind project labor agreement that ensures jobs will go to unionized construction workers. The agreement also includes a local-hire requirement that gives priority to union members who live in public housing, are military veterans, or who live in Sunset Park. 

Equinor also established a $5 million ecosystem fund” to help train New York City residents for offshore wind careers, including by partnering with city and state university systems and the New York Harbor School. The fund has so far supported the District Council of Carpenters in recruiting 130 new apprentices to the trade, about 75 percent of whom come from environmental justice communities, and including three individuals from Sunset Park. 

Community advocates, including Elizabeth Yeampierre and Alexa Avilés, have recently expressed concerns that the union requirements might hinder the hiring of workers from Sunset Park and slow progress toward a just transition locally. Labor apprenticeships and related programs are often offered only in English, and many residents in the neighborhood primarily speak Spanish, Mandarin, or other languages.

The offshore wind hub’s potential to reinvigorate the underserved Sunset Park community has been pivotal in gaining public approval from environmentalists, local elected officials, and community groups. Both Equinor and the city’s building trade unions say that they’re working to fulfill that pledge throughout the hiring process. If they don’t, that could undermine the project’s appeal as a leading model for other clean energy projects to follow.

We have a lot of work to do to make sure that our people are prepared, not just for the construction phase but also the other phases,” Avilés said. We need to be making sure that we meet our residents where they are, give them as much opportunity as we can, because they should benefit from these projects as well.”

Note: This story has been updated to include the current estimated cost of building the offshore wind terminal.

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.