LIPA Blasted at Meeting

A discussion on Nov. 1 of the proposed South Fork Wind Farm, hosted by the East Hampton Town Trustees’ harbor management committee, was blown off course. 

The three-hour meeting at Scoville Hall in Amagansett was largely devoted to a presentation by Michael McDonald of the East End Resilience Network. While Mr. McDonald praised Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island company that hopes to build the 15-turbine wind farm approximately 30 miles off Montauk, he was harshly critical of the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG Long Island, which manages the grid for LIPA. 

Pointing to the devastation wrought by recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and southern United States, Mr. McDonald told the gathering that the South Fork must become more resilient. But while the Town of East Hampton’s policy goal of serving 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020 is commendable, “the details have not allowed us to move forward with the kind of operational capacities we need.” (The town board has acknowledged its goal will not be met.)

The nation’s energy systems have historically existed within a monopoly environment, “where they have the ability to profiteer with very little restraint,” Mr. McDonald said, and this applies on Long Island. Utilities, he said, “have been centrally controlled and insensitive to local concerns,” best illustrated by the Long Island Lighting Company’s construction of a nuclear plant in Shoreham in the 1970s. 

This paradigm continues to be manifested in the LILCO-rebranded LIPA and its strategy on the South Fork, he said. “Look at what they’re trying to do: a substation and battery facility in a flood area,” he said, referencing a proposed installation near Fort Pond Bay in Montauk.

The process by which LIPA selected the South Fork Wind Farm was flawed, he said, and raises concerns about antitrust laws. “We’ve stated we want 100-percent renewable, yet they’re putting fossil fuel peaker plants in East Hampton,” he said of LIPA. “Over a half-billion dollars put toward transmission lines. Why . . . do we need transmission from the west?”

Instead of a plan determined by a monopoly, he asked, “what if we set up a South Fork grid and began to build the infrastructure based upon broad input from our communities . . . and East Hampton was able to state what they want as the ideal?” Immediate progress toward 100-percent renewable energy, he said, could be made with a rapid deployment of solar panels, the cost of which has fallen precipitously over the last 20 years, and battery storage, “and we need to do it in a way that’s going to be resilient, given the kinds of storms and cyberattacks we’re going to see.” 

Instead of a centralized grid and large electricity generators, Mr. McDonald said, the South Fork should focus on microgrids, small networks of users drawing from a community energy source that could function independent of a centralized grid, and nanogrids, smaller installations that could also function in isolation. “Build all these microgrids out across the South Fork,” he said, “so now you have a functional, distributed, collectively intelligent grid.” 

LIPA’s South Fork request for proposal (R.F.P.) should be canceled, he said. “It is not serving us. It is actually crippling us,” he said to applause. Instead, he advocated for legislation allowing community choice aggregation, under which municipalities and states aggregate electricity contracts to procure electricity as a group. New York State, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, is presently establishing aggregation to procure cost-effective, locally produced, renewable energy. 

In the wake of the lengthy presentation and a question-and-answer period, Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, and Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, were left to hurriedly make their respective cases for and against the wind farm. 

Mr. Plummer said that, while he agreed with several of Mr. McDonald’s remarks with respect to giving consumers greater choice, “those technologies and their systems are extraordinarily complicated to implement” and would take time and multiple levels of review and approval. Other of Mr. McDonald’s assertions, particularly with respect to the South Fork R.F.P., were factually inaccurate, he said, and he defended the process by which LIPA selected the South Fork Wind Farm as competitive and transparent. 

The installation has been sized so that during the off-season it would produce electricity commensurate with the South Fork’s energy use. In the summer months, the load increases, he said, but the wind farm would produce electricity at a relatively constant level, precluding the need for other new sources. “The fundamental issue is this,” he said. “Were it not for the South Fork Wind Farm coming online in 2022, LIPA would either be building new fossil-fuel generation or go to new transmission” from the west. 

Ms. Brady emphasized the commercial fishing industry’s opposition to the wind farm, and warned of destruction of habitat during construction, disruption of migratory patterns, harm to marine life caused by the noise of pile-driving the turbines’ foundations deep into the ocean floor, and the displacement of valuable harvests by invasive species. Commercial fishermen are particularly upset by the wind farm’s proposed location on historically important fishing grounds. 

“We are continuing to work with the commercial fishing community,” Mr. Plummer answered. “We’ve got a fisheries liaison based in Montauk listening to the community.” Deepwater Wind, he said, is also engaged in a two-year postconstruction survey around the Block Island Wind Farm, which it built and which began operation in December, to determine any impact on marine life. He pledged to present the company’s findings when the first year of the study is complete.