In a statement issued on Thursday, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. announced that he had reversed his position and now opposed the South Fork Wind Farm, a 15-turbine installation proposed to be constructed approximately 35 miles off Montauk.
Mr. Thiele’s statement cited what he called “the classic ‘bait and switch’ ” on the part of its developer, Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, formerly Deepwater Wind. He had given the project his qualified support last year.
A spokesman for Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind said the company was confused by Mr. Thiele’s about-face.
In his May 2018 statement, issued as the East Hampton Town Board and the town trustees were debating an easement or lease to the offshore wind developer so that it could bring the wind farm’s transmission cable ashore in the town and bury it on a path to a Long Island Power Authority substation, Mr. Thiele expressed his support for renewable energy, including wind power.
“Through legislation, capital investment, and public statements, I have demonstrated support for a clean energy future for eastern Long Island and New York State that is based upon renewable energy,” he wrote. “I have also supported producing and conserving energy locally to avoid the need for more above-ground transmission lines to import power to our communities.”
His support for offshore wind power in May 2018 should not have been construed as a rubber stamp for every offshore wind proposal, he wrote on Thursday. He referred to the concerns of the commercial fishing industry, which is almost uniformly opposed to the South Fork Wind Farm.
“Since my statement in May, two important changes have occurred,” he wrote. One is Deepwater Wind’s acquisition by Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, Denmark’s largest energy company and the world’s largest offshore wind developer. “Second, shortly after acquisition by Orsted, I have read that the project would utilize larger turbines and that the size of the project would increase from 90 megawatts to 130 megawatts, or a 44-percent increase.”
The change in output capacity, Clint Plummer, Orsted’s head of market strategies and new projects, had said in November, was a result of advances in turbine technology, with larger and more efficient models developed since the wind farm was first designed. The initial proposal for the installation, made in 2015, was based on 6-megawatt turbines, whereas 8, 10, and 12-megawatt turbines have since become available.
But this, Mr. Thiele said, “is the classic ‘bait and switch.’ What we were originally told about the project and its goals are no longer true. A project originally proposed by an American company to address the growing energy needs of eastern Long Island, now is to be part of the portfolio of an international energy giant, whose first decision was a 44-percent increase in the size of the project. We are left to imagine what other changes might be made or what other projects might show up on our doorstep in the future. . . . Because of the ‘bait and switch’ tactics of Deepwater/Orsted, I cannot trust them with my community’s future.”
He also cited concern about LIPA’s “ill-considered policy of denying public access to the Deepwater agreement under the guise of confidentiality,” for which he said there is no legitimate basis. He said that he would introduce legislation during the upcoming session “making it clear that these kinds of agreements are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. LIPA can either make the agreement public now or be compelled to make it public when my bill is enacted into law.”
A spokesman for Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind said in an email on Thursday, “We are as committed as ever to building an offshore wind farm that the South Fork can be proud of. The South Fork Wind Farm is the most affordable solution for the South Fork’s energy needs, and that’s a major reason why the community has overwhelmingly supported the project for years. We stand ready to make historic investments in East Hampton, including support of the commercial fishing community.”
“Thanks to technology advancements,” Orsted’s statement continues, “we can now provide even more clean energy to the South Fork, at an even lower price. We’ve talked publicly about what our new ownership, and our expanded project, mean for Long Island. We’ve requested multiple times over the course of the last four months to meet with Assemblyman Thiele to brief him on the facts – that offer still stands. Frankly, we’re confused why Assemblyman Thiele was such a strong and vocal supporter of the 90-megawatt project, but now opposes the project when it’s capable of producing even more clean energy for his constituents at a lower price.”
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