Climate Change Concerns Fuel Wind Farm Supporters

Insisting that the Town of East Hampton, not to mention civilization itself, faces imminent climate chaos, four residents urged the town trustees on Monday night to look positively on the proposed South Fork Wind Farm as a means of curtailing the use of fossil fuels, but also to “consider the bigger picture and the larger cost to all of us” of climate change.

Cate Rogers, a representative of the Climate Reality Project, told the trustees that the daily emission of 110 million tons of heat-trapping fossil-fuel gases, which she likened to treating the atmosphere “like an open sewer,” was the primary cause of rising global temperatures. The trustees, who have jurisdiction over many of the town’s beaches, bottomlands, and waterways, may have a say in whether or not Deepwater Wind can run its proposed wind farm’s transmission cable beneath an ocean beach in Wainscott.

Sea level rise is an inevitable result of melting glaciers, but another consequence, warmer ocean temperatures, will cause both stronger and more frequent storms, along with dramatic changes to marine habitat. “That impacts our fishing industry,” said Ms. Rogers, who is also the chairwoman of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee. 

The commercial fishing industry opposes the wind farm, and Ms. Rogers noted that some critics have called it an industrialization of the oceans. “I think that ship has sailed,” she said. “The offshore oil industry is thriving — another industrialized use of the ocean.” 

But, she said, the costs of solar, wind, and other renewable sources are falling and clean energy is becoming more accessible, providing the means to “create a safe, sustainable and prosperous future.” She supports the South Fork Wind Farm, “but my goal tonight is to bring climate change to the forefront,” Ms. Rogers said. “I’m asking you to please consider the bigger picture and the larger cost to all of us.”

Gordian Raacke, the executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, spoke in starker terms. “We’ve heard about the impacts of climate change on sea level rise and the extreme weather events that we’re starting to witness,” he said, “and we hear about the impacts on oceans, whether it’s warming or acidification.” Now, he said, scientists have observed a slowing of the Gulf Stream. “If that is in fact happening, we are in pretty deep trouble.”

A 2017 study published in the journal Nature stated that the Gulf Stream is flowing at its slowest rate in at least 1,600 years, probably due to climate change. A shutdown in its circulation, the study’s authors wrote, would bring rapid sea level rise along the East Coast, among other impacts.

The year 2020 is crucial, according to another 2017 study published in Nature, this one co-authored by Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which helped shape the 2015 Paris Agreement in which 195 countries set the goal of holding an increase in global average temperatures to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Should emissions continue to rise or even remain stable beyond that year, the goal would be almost unattainable, the authors wrote. 

“We have very little time left and we face a humongous, giant threat,” Mr. Raacke said, “and our solutions to this problem have to be commensurate in scale to the threat we’re facing. There is now a real sense of urgency, because we have waited far too long to act. We could have started this when scientists first told us that we need to begin to ramp down our carbon emissions, but we have done nothing, nothing that was able to bring that curve of annual emissions down.”

“We now have about a decade, some say just a few years left, to begin to bend this emissions curve down so that by mid-century we’ll . . . essentially decarbonize our entire economy,” he said.

Mr. Raacke suggested solar panels should be deployed “on every house that’s suitable for it, parking lots, everywhere else,” as well as improve energy efficiency in houses and lower peak energy demand. “But we also will need offshore wind,” he said. “If we fail to take dramatic action, tipping points and feedback loops will accelerate the melting of glaciers and ice sheets to a point of no return, to a point where all hope would be lost.” 

The trustees, he said, “bear an even greater burden on your shoulders, because we elected you to act on our behalf.” 

Christopher Carillo, the trustees’ attorney, asked that the speakers return in a few weeks to explain to the trustees how the South Fork Wind Farm can reverse the adverse impacts of climate change. Linda James, chairwoman of the town’s energy sustainability advisory committee, distributed a depiction of the committee’s recommended energy portfolio, which includes the aforementioned renewables as well as battery storage, green building practices, and community choice aggregation, and promised Mr. Carillo “a complete presentation of what this portfolio . . . can mean to our community, and how we, the trustees, and the town-appointed committees can work collaboratively to accomplish this.” 

Another speaker, Joan McGivern, took issue with assertions made by a member of the town board and a candidate for the board with respect to Deepwater Wind’s insistence that the town and trustees grant easements allowing it to land the wind farm’s transmission cable and route it to the Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton, before it submits its applications to federal and state agencies. 

Councilman Jeff Bragman has said that Deepwater Wind need not secure an easement before submitting applications, that in fact it would be unusual, according to the State Public Service Commission’s general counsel. In a letter in last week’s Star, David Gruber, a candidate for town board, agreed. 

“It is true that it’s rare to receive easement rights when you’re a public utility or a publicly regulated entity and you already have a right to use a public utility right of way,” Ms. McGivern, who is an attorney, said. “It is not rare when talking about a private applicant, like a non-utility applicant or a non-municipal applicant” [such as Deepwater Wind], “that doesn’t have access to public utility rights of way.”

Quoting from a legal analysis, “Siting Transmission Lines for New York Offshore Wind Projects,” from “Environmental Law in New York,” published one year ago, she said that “a private applicant must secure those rights from the pertinent municipality if it will require crossing or occupying municipal property.” It would be pointless, she said, for Deepwater Wind to undergo a years-long review process only to learn that it could not secure the rights to the transmission cable’s preferred route.

As long as it is determined not to have adverse environmental impacts, “Resolve to negotiate a deal so we can get on with getting the South Fork Wind Farm built,” she told the trustees. 

Also at the meeting, Rod Richardson, who was arrested last month for trespassing on Cartwright Shoal, a sand spit off Gardiner’s Island, urged the trustees to investigate the Goelet family trust’s claim of ownership, which he doubts. The purported owners’ security forces, he charged, wrongly intimidate and threaten anyone anchoring on the foreshore, and even harass paddleboarders on the water. Colonial-era documents, he said, prove that the spit, which is often submerged, is public property, and “marine patrol enforcement on this spit of land is a waste of public resources.” A letter from Mr. Richardson is in this issue of The Star. 

Several others in attendance at the meeting spoke in defense of Mr. Richardson.