The proposed South Fork Wind Farm ran into headwinds Saturday from skeptics at a forum on the topic sponsored by the Group for Good Government at the East Hampton Library.
East Hampton Town Trustee Rick Drew was one of those who raised doubts about the wind farm, which would include 12 to 15 turbines, and is supposed to generate up to 90 megawatts of power, providing enough power for 50,000 private homes.
Mr. Drew was one of three members of a 10-person panel to offer presentations on the project. He was joined by Jen Garvey, the development manager of Deepwater Wind, which plans to build the installation, and Jen McCann, the director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island, which reviewed Deepwater’s recently completed Block Island wind farm.
Mr. Drew said everyone recognizes that the reliance on fossil fuels must be curtailed, but he questioned whether the wind farm would perform as advertised during the East End’s peak demand for energy at the height of the summer season.
“Wind power is variable. Spring, winter, fall are awesome for wind farming, but in basic terms the season for peak demand and peak production of wind energy are misaligned,” he said. “We will not address peak energy consumption with wind power. We just won’t do it.”
The wind farm has been the centerpiece of East Hampton Town’s goal, adopted in 2014, to provide all of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2020. But Mr. Drew said the wind farm would fall short of that goal and only produce on average about 35 megawatts.
“We will continue to burn fossil fuel at a relatively high rate to meet peak demand,” he said. He added that with the wind farm producing higher levels during the off-season, there would be a need for new transmission lines to move that electricity to the west. He suggested the town should instead encourage solar power projects, which, he said, would produce peak power in the summer when it is needed most.
Mr. Drew also questioned how much the energy provided by the project would cost, saying projections call for the cost of wind power to decline by 70 percent by 2040 and that the amount Deepwater will be paid for that energy has been kept a secret, although it is widely expected to be higher than current rates.
Noting that the ocean off the East End has one of the largest sustainable supplies of “organic protein” available in the form of its fisheries, Mr. Drew also questioned whether it can be reasonably assumed the construction of the wind farm would not have negative impacts on fish. Coxes Ledge, where the wind farm would be constructed, provides habitat and breeding grounds for 55 commercially viable fish species. “How do you study that in six months?” he said. “It’s completely impossible.”
Ms. Garvey gave a brief presentation on behalf of Deepwater. The Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island is “the Saudi Arabia of wind,” she said. That, and the relatively shallow depth of the water, make it an ideal place for wind energy, she said.
She said wind energy would be cost effective and reduced rates would eventually find their way to customers.
The Block Island wind farm, the first offshore installation in the United States, has five turbines, which generate enough power for 17,000 houses, she said. In addition, by eliminating the need for diesel-powered generators on the island, the farm will “offset 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions” annually, she said.
Ms. Garvey said Deepwater wants to bring its cable ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott, which she said would result in the least amount of disruption to local roads and the shortest run to a power substation on Cove Hollow Road and Buell Lane Extension just outside East Hampton Village.
Ms. McCann, from the University of Rhode Island, said the coastal resources center had overseen the studies required before Deepwater was allowed to construct its Block Island farm and relied on the best available science in reviewing the application.
Noting that there are leases in place for up to a dozen more wind farms off the Rhode Island coast, Ms. McCann said there was plenty of angst to go around among that state’s inhabitants, with many asking, “how is this going to affect our tourism industry? How is this going to affect our fishing industry?” she said. Others were convinced “this is going to destroy us. This is going to ruin the way we do business.”
She said a great deal of research had been undertaken. While, for instance, the sound of pile drivers setting the turbine stands into the ocean floor would be as high as 188 decibels over 500 meters, that noise would be of limited duration, she said, while operational noise would be at much lower levels of about 100 decibels with a range of 50 meters. “They are quieter than boats, they are quieter than rain,” she said.
Another environmental concern has been over the electromagnetic impact from the cables running from wind farms. “We need to do more research on that,” Ms. McCann conceded, adding, “there’s a big difference between five wind turbines and 300. There is a cumulative effect.”
A lively exchange among panelists followed, with fishermen raising concerns about both the electromagnetic output of the cables as well as the hazards they might cause to navigation. Daniel Farnham, a commercial fisherman, said in areas the cables cannot be buried, the solution has been to cover them with a concrete pad. It is possible for draggers’ nets to get caught on those pads, he said, and if that happens a fishing boat is effectively anchored to the spot. “Once that happens, you are no longer able to maneuver your vessel and you are at the mercy of the winds and the tides,” he said.
Even panelists on the same side of the discussion clashed at times. Thomas Bjurlof, a consultant who specializes in networks such as electric grids, said even if the wind farm was producing all the energy East Hampton needs, it would not necessarily make its way through the grid to East Hampton customers only. Meanwhile, Gordian Raacke, the director of Renewable Energy Long Island, argued it was more important to recognize that the wind farm “generates slightly more energy than we are using in the Town of East Hampton.”
Bob DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, said the discussion was at times too technical for the average layperson. “You can walk away more confused than when you walked in,” he said. The most important thing, he said, was for the town to obtain the maximum amount of energy possible from renewable sources.
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