By Jean Paul Vellotti
Friday, August 25, 2006
When the wind blows, the turbines will rock ““ when it doesn’t, there’s trouble.
At least, for those who would put a wind farm off Long Island’s South Shore. During the hottest days of this year, as energy consumption records fell across the Island, there was nary a breeze ““ and not nearly enough wind to power the turbines of the Long Island Power Authority’s proposed Offshore Wind Park to their 140-megawatt capacity, according to Suffolk County Leg. Wayne Horsley, D-Babylon.
Horsely said he has wind data collected during this summer’s heat wave and plans to release it as part of a comprehensive report later this month. However, existing reports from the Suffolk County Budget Review Office and data from the National Weather Service and proposed wind park builder FPL Energy already support Horsley’s claims. (Those reports are based on wind levels in 2005 and earlier.)
According to the Budget Review Office, the proposed park’s maximum power output at any given August moment would be between 10.3 and 37.5 megawatts ““ a far cry from LIPA’s estimates of 140 megawatts. Those numbers are based on a historical trend showing wind patterns over Long Island’s South Shore during August ““ a time when additional power generation is needed most ““ are weak.
Dan Zaweski, LIPA’s assistant vice president of energy efficiency and distributed generation, acknowledges the findings ““ to a point. Where the turbines’ blades would actually be situated, he said, there’s enough wind.
“Generally, on hot days, there’s not a lot of wind blowing,” Zaweski said. “But using modeling at hub height and three miles out, there is some wind blowing.”
The technology planned for the 40-turbine site, which would be located approximately 3.5 miles from Jones Beach, allows some power to be produced even if the turbines aren’t spinning to total potential. Zaweski estimated that even at winds of 8 mph, power would be generated, but he didn’t give any exact numbers.
Zaweski has requested wind data for the days during the 2006 heat wave, but has not yet received the information ““ and therefore could not calculate exactly how much power could be generated.
By using wind-speed figures during previous peak power consumption days, however, LIPA and AWS Scientific Inc. ““ an Albany-based company that studies wind patterns ““ were able to create an estimate. Zaweski said those findings show the wind park would produce approximately one-third of the park’s capacity, between 40 and 50 megawatts.
“That’s still a sizeable load,” he said.
AWS Scientific stated in a 2002 report it prepared for LIPA and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that wind farms need wind speeds of 18 mph to be economically viable. According to that study ““ which measured wind data at a 213-foot hub height over a 15-year period ““ the proposed location of LIPA’s turbines would not meet the 18-mph requirement.
AWS Scientific also recommended that “for serious consideration,” offshore wind development must be moved further offshore, which means deeper waters.
That’s welcome news for Horsley, who cautions that before Long Island makes a commitment to any wind park project, every option needs to be explored.
“My concern with the LIPA project is that we are going to spend $400 million, which has to be paid by ratepayers, and then LIPA has to pay $40 million to build a power cable, plus $100 million in decommissioning costs which LIPA has to pick up,” Horsley said. “I think you could surely get more energy for $500 million through other projects.
“We should not run headlong into a project that can get better with second-generation technology,” the legislator added.
One alternative project has been proposed by Winergy Power LLC, which is pitching a three-turbine test facility off the Plum Island coast. If testing proves successful, Winergy has expressed interest in creating a privately funded 200-turbine project much farther out, at least 20 miles off Long Island’s South Shore.
But unlike the LIPA project, which would funnel all generated electricity to Long Island, sources say Winergy would sell the majority of power from its project to Con Edison.
According to data buoys 20 and 30 miles off the South Shore operated by the National Data Buoy Center, winds were also weak in that area during this summer’s heat wave. Those measurements, however, were made 15 feet above the water’s surface. The NWS said it did not have wind data at hub height.
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