At the latest forum on the Deepwater Wind proposal—the 18th on the subject in the last 12 months—critics continued to heap doubt about the benefits promised by the company, which plans a 15-turbine wind farm off Block Island, bringing electricity to the South Fork.
As they have for months, critics of the project also took aim at the project’s feared impacts on commercial fishing and pointed to a long list of unknowns about the project, for which Deepwater hopes to submit an official application later this spring. Supporters, for their part, countered by outlining the benefits related to the project.
Also on the panel put together by the Group for Good Government at East Hampton Library on Saturday afternoon were experts on renewable energy and power distribution, who offered independent views of the project and how it would address Long Island’s power supply concerns.
East Hampton Town Trustee Rick Drew spearheaded the doubters’ position, voicing a long list of lingering questions about the way the project has been presented by Deepwater Wind and the Long Island Power Authority, including a refusal to disclose the rates to be paid for power generated by the wind farm.
He nodded to the little-referenced “load factor” of energy lost in the transportation of electricity through 50 miles of cable, which he said some estimates show would reduce the actual maximum output of the wind farm to as little as 35 megawatts—not the 90 megawatts it has been billed as providing.
On top of that, Mr. Drew said, an offshore wind farm would produce its lowest amount of energy in the less windy months of summer, exactly the time when demand on the South Fork is the highest.
“Peak demand and supply from wind are misaligned,” Mr. Drew said, nodding to the purported genesis of LIPA’s hunt for new power sources for the South Fork as an alternative to extending transmission lines from western Long Island power plants. “Peak demand was the key component to this initiative. LIPA must be able to deliver peak demand as needed. But we will not address peak energy consumption with wind. We just won’t do it. We will continue to burn fossil fuels … and need additional transmission lines.”
Mr. Drew and Wainscott resident Simon Kinsella also teamed up to highlight unknowns about how much buying energy from the South Fork Wind Farm would cost LIPA ratepayers. The authority has said only that it expects the impact of the wind farm being added to Long Island’s power supply chain would be about $1.19 per month for the average homeowner, but it has not released any information about how much each killowatt of power purchased from Deepwater will cost.
Rates from other wind farm projects may give a range of possible costs, from 16 cents to 25 cents per kilowatt, but are not specific to the South Fork Wind Farm project, which is expected to be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the country if it comes online in 2022 as planned.
The actual costs of the project have even been vague, Mr. Drew also noted, with the company initially saying it would cost just over $750 million to build the 15 turbines, but other estimates putting the cost at $1.5 billion or more.
Dan Farnham, whose family owns fishing boats in Montauk and Massachusetts, said that fishermen are concerned about safety. Their nets could snag on sections of the power cables that can’t be buried in the sea floor or become exposed by shifting sands, he said, and the company is now saying the turbines will be just three-quarters of a mile apart, not a mile apart, as had been claimed earlier, making it more difficult for boats to maneuver between them. Fishermen, he said, would prefer they were at least 1.5 miles apart.
A University of Rhode Island scientist, Jennifer McCann, who conducted a broad range of studies and data collection during the construction of Deepwater Wind’s five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm, said that construction was very loud at times but has been found to have a small acoustic signature since it came online.
“It was loud—188 underwater decibels at 500 meters … but it went away,” Ms. McCann said of the sound from pile-driving for the stanchions that the turbines sit atop. “The turbines now are 100 underwater decibels at 50 meters. That’s quieter than boats.”
Ms. McCann said that there are still concerns among independent scientists about the electromagnetic signatures of the power cables from the wind farm on the sea floor. She said there is not enough research on the topic, particularly of cumulative effects from large arrays of turbines—like the hundreds that could ultimately be built in the three areas leased south of Block Island for wind farms serving New England and Long Island.
“There is a difference between five wind turbines and 300,” Ms. McCann said. “There is a cumulative effect. Europe is not looking at this. We need to research it. We need to be fair to the fishing community, and we need to share and learn.”
Another forum on the subject—likely to be the most heated and politically charged from a local viewpoint—is on the horizon, as the East Hampton Town Board and Town Trustees prepare to hold a vote on whether or not to grant Deepwater permission to bring its power cable ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott.
The board is expecting to hold a public hearing on the matter in early May, with the vote potentially on the table later that month. That public hearing could well be the last local debate on the topic for quite some time, as Deepwater is expected to file its application to state and federal agencies—more than a dozen of them—shortly afterward, moving the debate over the project’s pros and cons to a broader arena.
Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, offered something of a coda to last weekend’s discussion, noting that many laypeople can come into such a forum and “walk away from here more confused than when you came in.”
He said that the need for some additional power supply is well documented, and that renewable sources of power are the way forward, and that LIPA’s decision to choose the Deepwater proposal seemed to be sound. But, he said, the town should have something to say about it.
“The Town Board is starting to put pressure in the right place,” he said of two sessions in which Town Board members have demanded more details from Deepwater about the project’s on-shore facets. “You have to have scrutiny, you have to have transparency, and you have to have accountability.”
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