State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. on Thursday issued a sweeping about-face on the South Fork Wind Farm proposal, saying that changes to the project plan after local lawmakers had offered support has eroded his trust in the would-be developers.
The longtime assemblyman and former Southampton Town supervisor said in a statement issued on Thursday morning that he sees recently unveiled changes to the proposal as a “bait and switch” by the developers that has eroded his trust in them.
He had previously supported the project as an important step toward boosting reliance on renewable energy sources, rather than fossil fuel power plants or nuclear power.
“What we were originally told about the project and its goals are no longer true,” Mr. Thiele said in his statement. “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.”
His objections nodded to the announcements this past summer and fall that the project’s developers, the Rhode Island-based company Deepwater Wind, had been purchased by a giant Danish energy corporation called Ørsted and is now to be known as Ørsted US Offshore Wind.
Additionally, the developers and the Long Island Power Authority revealed, just as the applications to federal and state agencies were filed, that they now expect the wind farm to be able to pump up to 130 megawatts of power ashore, instead of just the 90 megawatts originally planned, thanks to the anticipated use of larger turbines than originally presented to the public.
The company has said that the increase in power generation from using larger turbines does not substantially change any of the implementation details or impacts of the wind farm’s development and operation, since they still will only be building 15 turbines, and they will be connected to land by the same power cable.
A spokesperson for the developers said on Thursday afternoon that the company is puzzled as to why the changes in ownership and the anticipated power output of the project has soured Assemblyman Thiele on the project.
“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,” spokesperson Meaghan Whims wrote in an email. “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.”
Deepwater Wind built the United States’ first offshore wind farm off Block Island in 2016, consisting of five turbines, and has said it expects to complete the South Fork Wind Farm by 2022. The company has also announced plans for three other projects slated to come: one a much larger project in the same region as the South Fork Wind Farm that would deliver power to Rhode Island and Connecticut, and others off New Jersey and Maryland.
Over the summer, Deepwater Wind filed it’s applications with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the New York State Public Service Commission for 15 wind turbines in an area of ocean 30 to 35 miles southeast of Montauk, in an area popular with cod fishermen known as Cox Ledge, and connected to land by a 50-mile cable coming ashore in Wainscott and running underground to the LIPA-PSEG substation in East Hampton.
The East Hampton Town Board and East Hampton Town Trustees are currently negotiating with the company for easements to run the power cable under the ocean beach and town parking lot at Beach Lane.
Shortly before filing the applications, after more than 18 months of public discussions of the 90 megawatt project, the company acknowledged in response to questions from the Press that they now expect to be able to employ turbines that could produce more than 8 megawatts of power each, rather than the 6 megawatt turbines that had been used in the Block Island Wind Farm in 2016 and had been used in initial projections for the South Fork Wind Farm. The additional 40 megawatts of power that the larger turbines would produce had been shown in state power supply forecasts for several months prior.
A coalition of critics of the wind farm plans have repeatedly nodded to the trickle of new revelations about the project’s details over the last two years, which seem to change several details from how they were originally presented, as a sign that the developers should not be trusted.
Mr. Thiele’s statement also jabbed at LIPA, which spurred the project forward by agreeing to a nearly $1.7 billion contract with Deepwater to purchase the power from the wind farm and announced in the fall that it would be negotiating an additional agreement to purchase the extra 40 megawatts of power that the company acknowledged in August it that would able to produce.
The contracts have been the subject of much criticism, because LIPA has refused to divulge the details of the costs, which independent analysts have said appear to be much higher than agreements for similar projects in other states.
“I continue to be concerned by LIPA’s ill-considered policy of denying public access to the Deepwater agreement under the guise of confidentiality,” Mr. Thiele said. “There is no legitimate basis for this policy. The procurement process is over. The public has every right to review this agreement, just as it has every right to review real estate appraisals under the CPF program once an agreement has been reached. The change in ownership and the 44 percent increase make it even more imperative that the agreement be made public now.”
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