By Craig Salters/ email@example.com
Friday, August 25, 2006
Long Island wind farm debate mirrors our own
At times, Cape Cod can seem like the front line in the battle over offshore wind farms, but there’s a second battleground just a few hours drive south.
Like Cape Cod, Long Island, N.Y., is debating the pros and cons of constructing an offshore wind farm.
Like Cape Cod, Long Island waits and watches as a controversial wind farm proposal undergoes review by the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that has been allowed to continue that process while it develops overarching federal guidelines.
Like Cape Cod, Long Island weighs issues of increased power demand, greenhouse gases and “NIMBY-ism” against those of commercial fishing, wildlife, the use of public lands, tourism and aesthetics.
And, like Cape Cod, the project lies somewhere between boon and boondoggle, depending on whom you talk to.
Officially referred to as the Long Island Offshore Wind Park, the current proposal calls for Florida Power and Light Energy, the largest owner-operator of wind energy projects in the United States, to construct and operate 40 wind turbines in eight square miles of ocean off the southern coast of the island. The 3.6 megawatt turbines, complete with towers 260 feet high and blades 182 feet long, would be in federal waters between three and five miles from the barrier beaches near Jones Beach and Robert Moses state parks. The project has a rough completion date of 2008 or 2009 and expects to produce 140 megawatts of energy, or enough power for approximately 44,000 Long Island homes.
Under an agreement, the Long Island Power Authority, or LIPA, would purchase 100 percent of the energy produced. A state entity, LIPA solicited bids for the wind farm and is firmly behind the project as one way to meet rising energy needs.
“It’s not being billed as the only solution, but it’s part of the solution,” said Dan Zaweski, an assistant vice president of LIPA.
But where LIPA sees a part of the solution, members of the Save Jones Beach Ad Hoc Committee, an umbrella group of civic associations and businesses opposed to the project, see the start of an industrial-strength problem.
“People come here to see where the wind meets the water, not a windmill factory,” said Walter Arnold, a director of the nonprofit organization.
Arnold acknowledged that he owns a home on West Gilgo Beach, an area he termed “ground zero” in terms of project visibility, but said aesthetics take a back seat to “checking the numbers” when it comes to wind farm concerns.
“What we’re against is the fact that questions aren’t being answered,” he said.
Formed in August 2005, Save Jones Beach has called for a moratorium on the wind farm and wants more information on such issues as public safety, the construction of an electrical substation and possible dangers to birds and fish. It decries the use of turbines 443 feet above mean low water level and raises questions about both the cost of the project and its cost effectiveness. Its own website declares: “A headlong rush toward projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars, which affect the environment, wildlife, boating, commercial fishing, human safety and lifestyles, property values, economic balance and destruction of pristine shoreline is unacceptable to taxpaying businesses and individuals.”
Arnold said the project would run transmission cables through fishing grounds and could affect the use of the very popular Jones Beach, or “the people’s beach” in his words. He argued that a better plan would be to “retrofit” the area’s aging power plants to produce more electricity and decrease emissions.
Arnold, who criticized what he called “the windmill culture” and the taking of wind industry statistics as gospel, offered one big difference between the Long Island and Cape Cod projects: in Long Island, the state’s own power company is leading the charge for construction, not a private developer.
“You guys just have to fight Cape Wind,” he said. “We’re fighting our own authority.”
The project also has the backing of powerful politicians, namely New York Gov. George Pataki, the man who appointed current LIPA chairman Richard Kessel to that position. But Peter Imbert, a project opponent and mayor of Amityville, a village of Babylon, N.Y., said local politicians are beginning to raise questions and objections.
“First of all, what they want to do is place 40 turbines on one of the best shorelines on the East Coast to produce 2 percent of [the region’s] electricity,” said Imbert, who added that project estimates are roughly $400 million. “It’s too much of a price to pay.”
On July 10, Imbert joined New York state Sen. Owen Johnson and Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone at a July 10 MMS scoping meeting in West Babylon to oppose the project. There, among other objections, he expressed concerns that Long Island is moving too fast with technology that is rapidly improving.
“Once this monster is built, we are stuck with it for at least 20 years,” Imbert warned MMS. “Technology is changing so fast [that] this project could become a dinosaur before it is even completed.”
But Gordian Raake doesn’t see a monster at all. Raake, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, sees one small step in the nation’s move toward clean and abundant renewable energy.
“The main reason [for support] is that it could pave the way for the harvesting of offshore wind,” said Raake, who is also a member of the Long Island Offshore Wind Initiative, a coalition of environmental groups in support of the project.
Raake said that, before the United States can tap into its enormous deepwater wind resource, it needs experience building near shore. “Before we put a man on the moon, we needed to send a satellite into orbit,” he said.
For LIPA’s Zaweski, the authority’s plan for offshore wind is anything but “headlong,” having begun in 1999 with a desire to make “a meaningful contribution on the commercial scale” to environmental concerns. With that goal, said Zaweski, LIPA spent years and many millions conducting both a preliminary test and then a feasibility test to find the best site for offshore wind power. Their efforts went hand in hand with the input of local environmental groups, Zaweski said.
Zaweski, who attended one of the Army Corps of Engineers’ hearings regarding Cape Wind, said opposition to the Long Island project, while real, is localized and not as divisive as on Cape Cod. Unlike Cape Cod, he said, there has been no split among traditional environmental groups.
“I would say that, down here, it’s substantially different,” said Zaweski. “I’m not aware of any environmental group that has come out against the project.”
Like Raake, Zaweski offered one caveat to that “green” support: that the MMS environmental impact statement finds no major negative impacts to the natural habitat or wildlife.
According to Zaweski, the offshore wind farm represents one part of a multi-pronged strategy to provide more power to Long Islanders, who pay roughly 17 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity and use, on average, 9,400 kilowatt hours per year. Also, while LIPA is technically exempt from the regulation, the wind farm would help the authority comply with New York’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. That standard, he said, mandates that 25 percent of the electricity produced in the state come from renewable resources by the year 2013.
Zaweski said LIPA has always acknowledged that the turbines would be visible from shore and that some people consider them eyesores. But others, he said, find them elegant.
Aesthetic impact, said Zaweski, is just one of the topics MMS is exploring in its review process.
“MMS will do an environmental impact statement and that all gets folded into the study,” he said. “It will be addressed.”
Having said that, Zaweski expressed doubt that studies have all that much effect in how people approach such a charged issue.
“People choose to believe what they want to believe as it suits their purposes,” he said.
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