Skeptics and critics dominated what likely will be the final public airing of community concerns about plans for a $1.6 billion offshore wind farm to power the South Fork before local elected officials decide whether to grant Deepwater Wind permission to allow the cable from the wind farm to run beneath local beaches and roads.
More than 50 residents took to the microphone last Thursday night, May 17, at LTV Studios in Wainscott to weigh in on the lone phase of the project’s years-long review process on which local officials will have a say. But almost nobody actually referenced the actual work that the town is approving in their comments.
The majority of speakers urged the joint panel of the five Town Board members and nine Town Trustees not to put their stamp of approval on the project—even if it ultimately would not stop the project from moving forward, and would mean that the town might forfeit millions in “community benefits” that Deepwater has offered as part of its application to the town.
The company has said the community benefits package is worth about $8.4 million, though that includes funding for a number of items that are mandated by the federal application process, or are necessary logistical support that the company will locate in Montauk.
Opponents likened the package to a bribe from the hedge fund-backed offshore wind developer, and pleaded with town officials to reject the project on principle, saying the long-term costs of offshore wind development are still unknown.
“We are not in a position to approve this project—we have much more to learn to do it right,” said Rachael Gruzen, an environmental planner. “You have to throw out this community benefits package. This is not the time … to put a price on our natural resources.”
Speakers who spoke in support of the project on Thursday applauded it and said that the need to kick-start a shift to renewable sources of energy should trump all else.
“For every measure, there are always downsides,” said Bill Chaleff, an East Hampton architect and member of the town’s sustainability committee. “But as a student of energy conservation in this region for over 40 years, I would say the trade-offs come clearly down on the side of changing over to wind and solar [electricity].”
Before the meeting, and during, there were some divisions apparent among the elected officials who will be the final arbiters of the town’s position.
Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and some other members of the Town Board have voiced their support for the first-of-its-kind project, seeing it as a necessary first step in a needed shift to renewable energies nationwide that the town should be proud to be a part of. The wind farm is a key element of the town’s plans to convert to green energy in the coming years.
But several of the Town Trustees appear to be strident skeptics, if not outright opponents.
At the conclusion of the joint hearing on Thursday, the Town Board voted to keep the public hearing open for additional comments for two weeks, which would allow the board to vote on the application at its next meeting. The Trustees, however, voted to keep the record open for a month.
The Deepwater proposal calls for as many as 15 turbines, each some 600 feet tall, to be erected in the Atlantic about 30 miles southeast of Montauk in a popular fishing area known as Cox Ledge. The project, know as the South Fork Wind Farm, could generate up to 90 megawatts of energy, about 50,000 homes’ worth; because of losses over the long delivery distance, however, it is seen as more likely to provide 30 to 40 megawatts of power to the South Fork at peak production.
Critics have said that the wind farm will do little to reduce the carbon footprint of Long Island’s power generation, will not steel the South Fork against power outages, and will cost Long Island Power Authority ratepayers hundreds of millions.
LIPA has said the wind farm is the most economical of its options for delivering more power to the South Fork, which the utility has said is forecast to see rising power demands through 2030, though experts have acknowledged that the wind farm’s power generation will have to be supported by fossil fuel-generated energy for the foreseeable future.
The approvals being sought from the town simply allow for drilling of a bore hole beneath the beach and parking lot at Wainscott’s Beach Lane, through which the offshore power cable will be brought ashore, and then running the cable beneath several town roads to the LIPA substation in East Hampton Village. If the company is to use town property, it needs to have permits in place before it files its application to more than a dozen state and federal agencies that will embark on the full review and analysis of the overall project, which the company has said is expected to take as long as two years.
Those who support the town standing up for the project note that if the town denies permission Deepwater could appeal to the State Public Service Commission, which could overrule the town and grant the permission, or the company could decide to use state beaches at the eastern end of Napeague, which would not require permission beyond the broader application.
But skeptics say that using the state property to land the cable would be far more expensive and time consuming for the company, and that appealing to the state to overrule the town may not be cut-and-dried either, and that the town should make more demands from Deepwater for guarantees against impacts to local fishermen should things not go exactly as the company has forecast.
“I implore the Trustees and the Town Board not to sign without guarantees,” said Dan Farnham, a Montauk resident whose family runs a fishing fleet out of Rhode Island. “This is an energy company. I would not trust an energy company or an oil company if they say, ‘Trust me.’”
While fishermen like Mr. Farnham led the critical voices at most of the more than 20 public meetings that have been held on the project over the last year, Thursday’s skeptics came from all walks—most notably from a divided environmental advocacy community.
“I hate fossil fuels,” said Ira Barocas. “But this project is not the right project at the right time. We need to understand the costs. We need to understand the environmental impacts. We need to take a step back.”
Carl Safina, a biologist and author of numerous books that advocate for better management and protection of the world’s marine environment, raised doubts about whether offshore wind was the right approach to ending reliance on fossil fuels.
“Is there another clean path, a more jobs-rich path for our town?” he said, casting doubts on whether LIPA was to be trusted to choose the most economical path for its hogtied ratepayers. “It seems to me we are being bamboozled. Another era of centralized, meter-run monopoly—with the added wrinkle of industrial fields in the ocean.”
Fishermen have decried the project as potentially making it impossible for commercial fishing boats to work in the area where they are built and have said not enough is known about the effects of electromagnetic pulses underwater yet to run the electricity transmission cables through such economically important fishing grounds.
“I’m not against renewable energy—I just don’t want to lose fishing grounds,” said Dave Aripotch, a Montauk fisherman. “I don’t see anything good about this. These things are no good. Put them on land.”
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