Harvesting offshore wind energy would go a long way toward meeting the South Fork’s growing demand for electricity while reducing or eliminating the need for fossil-fuel-burning power plants, residents were told at a forum on wind energy on Saturday.
At the same time, climate scientists warn that a steep reduction in fossil-fuel emissions is increasingly urgent, with two federal agencies announcing this month that global temperatures in February were the most abnormally warm on record. According to NASA, six of the last nine months have tied or set new temperature records for that month, responsible for 2015 being the planet’s warmest year on record. “The issues of global warming and sea level rise,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said on Saturday, “are clearly at our feet.”
Clint Plummer of Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island company that is building the country’s first offshore wind farm and has submitted a proposal to the Long Island Power Authority for a larger installation to serve the South Fork, told the gathering at the East Hampton Middle School that tapping the area off the northeastern United States represents “an exciting opportunity for the South Fork and the town to be a global leader in demonstrating not just offshore wind but a completely new way of thinking about how to supply energy.”
The proposed installation, approximately 30 miles off Montauk, would offset the need for new fossil-fuel plants that run during peak demand, Mr. Plummer said. It would be built within a 256-square-mile site to which the federal government awarded Deepwater Wind a 30-year lease in 2013. LIPA will announce a decision on the proposal in May.
Along with Mr. Cantwell, Mr. Plummer was joined Saturday by Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, which hosted the event; John Sousa-Botos of the town’s Natural Resources Department; Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, and Linda James, a member of the town’s Energy Sustainability Advisory Committee, all of whom encouraged those in attendance to support wind and other forms of renewable energy.
Deepwater Wind’s proposal for the South Fork comprises 15 six-megawatt wind turbines and battery energy storage facilities in Montauk and Wainscott. “The need here was big and growing, ut required balancing the system out,” Mr. Plummer said, with the integrated battery storage systems able to “ramp up and down” in response to higher-than-usual demand or low levels of wind.
All transmission lines would be underground except for a connecting point at the Buell Lane substation in East Hampton, he said, and the battery storage facilities would be in industrially zoned lands not abutting residential properties. Though it is early in the process – should LIPA agree to purchase electricity from Deepwater Wind, an operational wind farm is still several years into the future – the company is working with the town to define the scope of construction, Mr. Plummer said.
The company is now constructing the country’s first offshore wind farm, a five-turbine installation that is expected to supply more than 90 percent of Block Island’s electricity needs. The initial phase of that construction, from July to November, was successful, Mr. Plummer said. A Norwegian vessel, the largest in the world, is due in July to install the turbines, he said.
Mr. Plummer said his company had listened to members of the community, including stakeholders such as the commercial fishing industry, and devised construction methodologies to minimize disturbance to fisheries and species such as the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The South Fork’s fishing industry, Mr. Cantwell said, “is concerned about navigation and fishery resources” and encouraged Deepwater to continue to work toward minimizing impact. In Europe, Mr. Raacke said, large-scale offshore wind farms have operated for more than two decades without significant environmental impacts.
Several of those in attendance traveled to Uniondale on Monday and were among approximately 100 people from groups including the Sierra Club and Working Families Organization Long Island to rally at LIPA’s headquarters, urge its board of trustees to select Deepwater Wind’s proposal, and call on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to make a large-scale commitment to offshore wind. At the board meeting, Mr. Raacke read into the record a statement from Mr. Cantwell in which the supervisor said, in part, that “it is clear that we will need to utilize our offshore wind resources to generate a large part of our electricity needs.” Hundreds of letters from South Fork residents were also delivered, along with a petition circulated by East Hampton High School’s Environmental Awareness Club and middle school students and bearing more than 400 signatures urging LIPA’s board to select only clean and renewable energy sources.
“We’re at a decision point on the South Fork with regard to our energy needs,” Mr. Cantwell said on Saturday. He cited the deeply unpopular installation of a high-voltage transmission line between the East Hampton and Amagansett substations by PSEG Long Island, which manages the Island’s electrical grid on behalf of LIPA, as an example of a traditional means of meeting demand.
The impact of climate change on the town will likely be severe, the supervisor said, listing early manifestations including “an alarming rate” of sea level rise, more extensive flooding in moderate storms, and receding beaches, while potential future impacts include the loss of waterfront development, a vulnerable infrastructure, and changes in the migratory patterns of fish. “What impact will this have on Montauk, the largest commercial fishing port in the state?” he asked. These impacts, he said, “are only scratching the surface of the consequences” of unchecked climate change.
An offshore wind farm serving the South Fork, he said, would help the town achieve the goals adopted in 2014 of meeting 100 percent of communitywide electricity consumption with renewable sources by 2020 and the equivalent of 100 percent of economywide energy consumption, including heating and transportation, by 2030.
“You recall the slogan – think globally, act locally,” Mr. Cantwell said. “I think we’re at that point where we have to consider how we want to act as a community.” Electricity rates on Long Island are alarmingly high, he said, and new sources and delivery of power must be cost effective. “That’s where I think we have to take a really close look at wind and solar.” The town’s renewable-energy goals are “very ambitious,” he said, “but sometimes it’s okay to overreach.”
Referring to then-Governor David Paterson’s executive order that the state adopt a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, Mr. Raacke said that “we need to continue much beyond that. . . . We need to grow utility-scale solar and other renewable sources.”
“We cannot solve this problem,” he said, “without tapping and harvesting our offshore wind resource on Long Island.”
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