Reckoning Day for the South Fork Wind Farm is upon us.
Though it’s been the subject of numerous public hearings and board meetings for two years — not to mention endless conjecture and innuendo — Deepwater’s Wind’s offshore wind farm is still in its infancy.
The company seeks approval from the East Hampton Town Board and East Hampton Town Trustees to begin the process that will allow the state and federal government to review the application to build a 15-turbine wind farm some 30 miles off the coast of Montauk. Deepwater hopes to bring a cable ashore at Beach Lane in Wainscott and bury it, with a connection to a Long Island Power Authority substation on Cove Hollow Road.
Clint Plummer, Deepwater’s vice president for development, said recently that the company must get a commitment from the town by about June 30 to stay on schedule.
That deadline has come and gone without any action taken. Francis Bock, the Clerk of the Town Trustees, said his board is sharply divided.
“As you can imagine, working with nine people, we’re trying to agree with what our limits are. We’re trying to understand it,” Bock said.
The earliest the Trustees could vote will be at their regularly scheduled July 9 meeting, he said, but Deepwater has yet to be placed on the agenda.
Deepwater’s proposal has become controversial and contentious. Some environmentalists question the cost of the project. Fishing groups fear the turbines and underwater cable will harm some fish species and disrupt fishing around the turbines.
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and a board member of the Center for Sustainable Fisheries, has been an early and persistent opponent.
“It will be 220 decibels. It can kill fish up to three quarters a mile away,” Brady said. “If those offshore wind energy leases are not stopped, it will result in thousands of lost U.S. fishing jobs and the destruction of domestic fish stocks.”
Brady also said the winter flounder spawning grounds will likely be disturbed if the cable is brought onshore along the projected route.
Up In Arms
Some Wainscott residents are up in arms that the pristine beach at the foot of Beach Lane will be Ground Zero for the project. Other opponents, like former East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny, said the turbines would decimate the offshore bird population.
Deepwater contends it can mitigate any damage to the beach or disruption to bathers by burying the cable 2000 feet off the shoreline. A workstation will be dug on land behind the parking lot, and the cable drawn through a narrow tunnel drilled horizontally from it. That will become the starting point for the operation until the completion of the first stage, which consists of running the cable to the PSEG substation near Cove Hollow Road and Buell Lane in East Hampton.
The cable would be buried under Beach Lane, Wainscott Main Street, Wainscott Stone Road, and Hedges Lane, across Montauk Highway to the Long Island Rail Road right away, where it would run east to Cove Hollow Road. The process would take two years and the burying would be put on hold during the summer months.
Deepwater pledges it will take pains to assure homeowners along the route that disruption will be kept to a minimum. Civic leaders aren’t so sure.
Should the town refuse permission to use Wainscott as a landing point for the cable, Deepwater officials maintain they will seek approval to bring it in on state parkland along the Napeague stretch.
From there, the cable would have to find its way all the way down Route 27 to the same substation, a process that will be at best, cumbersome, and at worst, a traffic disaster.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said his board will likely vote on the matter this month. “Deepwater said they want the approval of both boards, though I understand now that the Trustees may not have jurisdiction,” he said. The earliest the town board could vote would have been at its July 3 meeting.
A Major Step
Critics and community activists Si Kinsella and Zach Cohen have analyzed the available data and concluded local users will be paying an extraordinary fee for the wind power, perhaps four times as much as it should cost as the years progress.
Newsday reported the project would add about $4 a month to the average electric bill. But there are automatic increases built in for 20 years, according to published reports, that will raise the price significantly above 20 cents a megawatt. Brady said that would make the price of energy “astronomical” to PSEG users.
LIPA CEO Tom Falcone pointed out that New York State — specifically Governor Andrew Cuomo — has a goal of being powered by at least 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and utilities have been charged to reach that goal. LIPA is in the process of complying, and the wind project is a major step in the process.
Deepwater and LIPA have been roundly criticized for not revealing details of a 20-year agreement between the two entities. The utility has agreed to buy all of the power generated by the wind farm.
“Deepwater won a competitive installation, and we signed a confidentiality agreement” not to reveal the actual cost of the power,” Falcone said.
Wind power does not work in a vacuum; it needs fossil fuel fired plants to deliver electricity as well, and therefore it is not nearly as “clean” as proponents claim. In fact, in some locales wind farms have not lowered harmful emissions at all.
There is also speculation that LIPA doesn’t really need the power being purchased from Deepwater, because it has plans to bring in redundant sources of power to East Hampton. There is also scuttlebutt that as more and more wind turbines are built offshore, the power will be shipped west, perhaps all the way to New York City. Plummer insisted the cable will be strictly for the South Fork Wind project and too confined to carry heavier loads. LIPA/PSEG will take ownership of the cable once it is connected to the substation.