While the Long Island Power Authority and Deepwater Wind are in talks to build as many as 15 wind turbines 30 miles off the southeast of Montauk, there is cause for concern about the underwater environment the turbines could inhabit.
Larry Penny, a local naturalist and former natural resources director for the Town of East Hampton, says that the operation of such turbines can disturb various forms of fish life living in the area. Mr. Penny explained that most fish, from an average-sized cod to gargantuan whales, communicate with each other through some degree of sound.
“When the turbines are going, they make strange sounds in the water and the water sort of amplifies sound,” Mr. Penny said. “That confuses fish, because what do they know? They know their own sounds and they know they migrate in and out, they migrate north and they migrate south, depending upon the species. So there’s a lot of disruption of common carryings-on by the fish in the ocean.”
Mr. Penny went on to say that the installation itself of wind turbines, like the five built off of Block Island this past fall, can create disturbing noises that carry for 50 miles. On top of that, Mr. Penny said, most research on offshore wind turbines is outdated by 10 years.
“I’m all for alternative energies, I’m all for solar and for wind. Just put it in the right place is all,” Mr Penny said. “To me, it’s just inefficient. I think it’s a crap shoot, frankly, to try to use the ocean to develop non-polluting energy.”
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, which has opposed such projects, also pointed out various aspects that can be harmful to the ocean environment. For one, using pile drivers to install wind turbines kills any fish with a swim bladder within three-quarters of a mile, she said. The use of jet plowing to install a turbine’s power cables underneath the ocean floor kills larvae species. On top of the sounds from the turbines confusing the fish’s migrations, Ms. Brady said, the electricity generated from the proposed Montauk turbines could attract sharks, lessening the chances for big game catches in the recreational fishing season.
“That area is not just commercially important, it’s important for charter and recreational guys too,” Ms. Brady said. “This is an industrialized processing of the ocean floor, and the losers are anything that lives underneath the water line.”
The purpose of the proposed turbines off Montauk is to generate more power for the South Fork, which was determined to be on the verge of a major energy deficit in the next decade. According to Deepwater, the so-called South Fork Wind Farm will generate "90 megawatts of clean, renewable energy for Long Island’s South Fork, making it the largest offshore wind farm in America."
Deepwater's website adds: "The project will help satisfy Long Island Power Authority’s commitment to bring online 280 megawatts of on-island renewable capacity, and it will provide early support to the Town of East Hampton’s long-term goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy use by 2030."
But as hard as it is to find alternatives to these turbines, both Mr. Penny and Ms. Brady believe there has to be another option besides sticking them in the water.
“We have solar, we have heat, pretty soon we’ll be able to make energy with hydrogen, but we’re not quite there yet,” Mr. Brady said. “It’s a combination of conservation and new technology.
“Why aren’t we just basically cleaning up what we have first before we go sully somewhere else?” Ms. Brady said.