Wind Farm Delayed

Meeting’s last-minute postponement troubles advocates

A giant leap by the Long Island Power Authority toward a new energy infrastructure for the East End based on emission-free, renewable sources did not occur as expected yesterday, after the board of directors postponed a meeting at which it was to accept a proposal from Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island company, to construct a 90-megawatt, 15-turbine wind farm in waters approximately 30 miles east of Montauk. The utility’s chief executive officer had recommended last week that the board accept the proposal. 

LIPA was also expected to announce a “demand response” program yesterday under which electricity consumers could temporarily reduce or deactivate high-consuming equipment during peak demand periods. The initiative was to call for two new battery storage facilities, which would be used during periods of peak demand.

Officials of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority asked LIPA’s board to delay the vote on the wind farm, according to a statement yesterday, “so the project can be examined in the broader context of the Offshore Wind Master Plan,” which the state authority is developing. A blueprint for that plan “will inform decisions about the best way to manage this valuable resource in an environmentally responsible way and in order to obtain the lowest achievable offshore wind electricity cost for New Yorkers,” the statement said. The blueprint is to be completed in the next few weeks.

The postponement was troubling to renewable energy and climate-change activists who had been cheered last week when Thomas Falcone, LIPA’s C.E.O., said the wind farm would be approved. “Every month that goes by without a decision on offshore wind and demand response programs, which would help reduce peak demand, means more diesel generators polluting the air, more diesel truck deliveries,” Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island and a member of the Town of East Hampton’s energy sustainability advisory committee, said yesterday. “It’s a real problem.” However, if the delay amounts to a few weeks, “it’s no big deal,” he said. “But these things have a way of taking longer than we think.” 

A statement from Deepwater Wind yesterday expressed confidence that its proposed wind farm would “become a major part in meeting the State of New York’s ambitious goals.” The state’s Clean Energy Standard mandates that 50 percent of electricity come from clean and renewable sources by 2030. Deepwater Wind said it respected the decision to postpone the meeting and that it looked forward to working closely with the involved agencies as well as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration. Deepwater Wind is now building a five-turbine wind farm that will provide power to Block Island. That installation is scheduled for completion this summer and to be in operation by year’s end. 

Before the postponement, Mr. Falcone said contract negotiations withDeepwater Wind, site assessments, and permitting were yet to be completed, but “the nice thing about this is it is using an existing federal lease area that has already been licensed and reviews done for conflicting resources like shipping lanes and fishing. It’s in good shape.”

 He said he hoped to complete a contract with Deepwater Wind by the first quarter of 2017 and that construction could begin in 2019. The wind farm, which would be over the horizon and out of view, could be online around December 2022, he said. 

The wind farm, which is designed to power some 50,000 residences, was to be the first phase of Deepwater ONE, which would produce up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity from additional turbines installed over a larger area in several stages. The electricity would connect to LIPA’s Amagansett substation via an undersea cable and from there to the East Hampton substation on Buell Lane Extension in East Hampton. “In fact,” Mr. Raacke said, “Deepwater Wind has offered to put an extra conduit in, which would enable PSEG to ‘underground’ the ugly transmission lines they put up last year.” PSEG Long Island manages the island’s electrical grid on behalf of LIPA.

Demand for electricity on the South Fork has far outpaced the rest of Long Island, with particularly high use in the summer and on weekends and holidays. Demand has also vastly outpaced population growth. Over the last decade, the number of residential accounts has grown by 4 percent, while the megawatt peak has grown by 44 percent, according to PSEG. Commercial accounts have grown by 12.3 percent over the same period.

Governor Cuomo, Mr. Raacke said yesterday, “has been very vocal on the need to do something about climate change, setting very ambitious goals — just like East Hampton — to switch to renewable energy sources, and that’s what we’re counting on.” Offshore wind, he said, “is going to be a big economic engine” for New York and the country. 

The East Hampton Town Board, which adopted a  plan calling for 100 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 and the equivalent of 100 percent consumption, including heating and transportation, by 2030, issued a statement last Thursday hailing LIPA’s expected approval of Deepwater Wind’s proposal.

 “Deepwater Wind’s project was an integral part of the town board’s plan when it unanimously adopted the town’s 100-percent renewable energy goals,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. “The town’s policy is paving the way for renewables, wind, solar, and conservation to become a real alternative to massive transmission lines and greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels.”

Technological advances, the global growth of the industry, and American contractors’ increasing familiarity with offshore wind have brought costs to a point at which it is competitive with traditional, fossil fuel-based energy sources. “When we looked at the options and alternatives to meet the growing need in East Hampton and Southampton, it turns out this is the lowest-cost proposal,” Mr. Falcone said.

Not everyone has been supportive of the wind farm initiative, however. “There is absolutely nothing environmentally sound or safe about this project,” Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said last Thursday. Its construction would devastate important habitat areas and migration paths, she said. “If you want to call yourselves environmentally safe, it should be. . . . It’s very disheartening, and I’m very disappointed with the Town of East Hampton for not addressing it with the fishery communities.”

Mr. Falcone, however, said a multi-year environmental review of the site had been completed, with participation from fishing and shipping interests. “Having gone through the stakeholder process, there is always someone who is disappointed, but that said, you have an answer as to what has been determined to be the best use,” he said.

Mr. Raacke, who called the last-minute cancellation very odd, nevertheless said he was still optimistic that this is going to move forward.”