Offshore wind generator merges with utility

Deepwater Doubles Down

Concerned Citizens of Wainscott continue their fight, but their opponent continues to gain in size and strength as it closes in on ground zero. That would be Beach Lane, home to one of the most pristine ocean beaches in the state.

Deepwater Wind, the company that wants to build the South Fork Wind Farm, wants to bring in the electric cable from its proposed turbines to Wainscott to secure a weak link in the Long Island Power Authority grid.

DWW secured a tentative approval from the East Hampton Town Board last year but sits on tenuous ground and must still survive a rigorous state review as well as legal action from the Concerned Citizens. But as its opponents gained strength, Deepwater doubled down.

In October, the D.E. Shaw group, which owned Deepwater, sold the company to Ørsted, an international power company with extensive offshore wind experience, creating the leading U.S. offshore wind platform with the most comprehensive geographic coverage and the largest pipeline of development capacity.

Still, wind farm opponents gained strength. Commercial fishing interests continued to hammer at the Deepwater methodology and Wainscott residents gave notice they will fight the project in court.

Last week though, Ørsted, obviously bracing for the long haul, announced a merger with Eversource, a New England utility formerly known as Northeast Utilities.

The merger, a 50/50 affair, creates an energy giant, the largest in the Northeast, and sets up a flow of coming offshore wind projects in the New England corridor that will provide the future of offshore power to the region.

Clint Plummer, a Deepwater executive vice president, said the new Ørsted/Eversource entity “is completely committed to this project and the promises we made to East Hampton.” Long term, the entire Boston to Washington corridor will be fed by wind-driven electricity. “The bottom line is it is the preferred option, Plummer added.

“This transaction solidifies our partnership as the strongest developer of offshore wind in the Northeast and is consistent with Eversource’s efforts to be a key catalyst for clean energy development in our region,” stated Eversource’s EVP/enterprise energy strategy and business development Lee Olivier.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele abruptly pulled his support for Deepwater two weeks ago, giving hope to Wainscott residents that the project could be stopped. The new Eversource/Ørsted entity reached out to Thiele after the merger was announced, sending a conciliatory message, but Thiele remained at odds as The Independent went to press this week.

“The truth is, Deepwater has not always been transparent or open about its project either with the community at large or with elected officials,” Thiele wrote to the company.

The South Fork Wind Farm, the initial Deepwater project, with turbines located 35 miles east of Long Island, was to connect 90 megawatts of electricity to the East End grid via a cable that will land in Wainscott. The project has now grown to 132 megawatts, and critics, like Wainscott resident Si Kinsella, charge that eventually the cable will funnel in power from an increasing number of wind farms, requiring massive excavation and
constant monitoring and repairing.

“It’s quadrupled in size. The transmission vault will be sitting in water. They will have to open up the road continually,” said Kinsella, referring to Beach Lane. “Once the vaults are in and the transmission lines buried, there will be corroding.”

Plummer disagrees. He does not think the project will be delayed, either, though the Public Service Commission review has yet to begin. “We don’t expect delays, but if they happen, we will go to Hither Hills,” he said, and bring the cable in on state land. That means it will have to be buried some 11 miles, most under Montauk Highway, to get to the substation that will be built in Wainscott near the existing one. “LIPA needs new sources of energy and we have to deliver,” he said.

As for Eversource, it has been the subject of several lawsuits in recent years, not an unusual occurrence for public utilities. One lawsuit claimed Eversource and a partnering company caused electricity consumers to incur overcharges of $3.6 billion in a years-long scheme that affected six states and 14.7 million people.

Another charged that 7.1 million retail electricity customers and an overall population of 14.7 million people have been affected by Eversource grid’s “unique monopoly” spanning at least from 2013 to 2016.

Eversource, listed on the NYSE, transmits and delivers electricity and natural gas and supplies water to approximately four million customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. It’s been recognized as the top U.S. utility for its energy efficiency programs by the sustainability advocacy organization Ceres.

On Thursday, February 14, Ørsted/Eversource will reveal yet another project that will deliver wind-generated electricity to the South Fork: possible landing grounds include Holbrook, Shoreham, and Brookhaven. Kinsella suggested abandoning the Wainscott site and bringing South Fork Wind Farm ashore at one of those sites.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com