Long Island Power Authority officials never dreamed the contract with Deepwater Wind to buy offshore-generated power would become so controversial.
However, LIPA’s CEO Thomas Falcone, during a visit to the Independent office last week, made it clear the power authority went into the deal with eyes wide open and that LIPA was committed to purchasing the power from Deepwater’s South Fork Wind Farm if and when it is up and running.
Falcone also said LIPA is prepared for any contingency, and that includes moving on without Deepwater should the approval process get stalled or if the project is canceled. The moving force behind the push for clean energy is from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has charted an ambitious course to be implemented by 2030 that entails an unprecedented commitment to wind-generated electricity.
“We’ve turned down wind projects many times,” Falcone said when asked if the LIPA board was pressured by the governor. “But this one was the right sized project at the right time.” For one reason, Cuomo wants each of the major providers in New York State to commit to an offshore wind project. For another, the South Fork Wind project was conceived strictly to shore up a weak link in the LIPA system. By bringing 90 kilowatts of power into the substation on Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton and making other line improvements, the utility achieves “economy of scale,” Falcone said.
That’s only part of the story, however.
LIPA intends to install an underground cable from its Shinnecock Canal substation no later than 2026 and couple it with at least one new substation in Wainscott. East Hampton Town officials, pushing hard for Deepwater as a source of renewable energy, never mentioned an alternate plan was in the works. Falcone acknowledged the project could be ready as early as 2023 if it became necessary. At best, it renders the Deepwater project redundant, and it could easily replace it completely.
Wainscott residents fear the specter of a LIPA utility hub with all the traffic, noise, and pollution that might come with it. At a recent public hearing, two residents who live in the nearby Dune Alpin subdivision expressed concern about the expansion of the Cove Hollow facility.
Coupled with a plan to run a new line within an exiting conduit from Riverhead to Shinnecock, the projects would connect Wainscott to Riverhead and points west. That would open the door to a complete shift in the direction power is typically delivered, from west to east. Instead, the power could be shipped west — all the way to New York City. Falcone agreed that could conceivably happen down the road.
LIPA has also been flirting with Caithness Energy, which is building a second gas-powered power plant in Yaphank.
Caithness president Ross Ain said the proposed plant, to be called Caithness II, would produce $75 million in savings for LIPA ratepayers and would serve as a backup for solar and wind energy facilities. Falcone said Cathiness II is an option, but LIPA isn’t ready to commit yet.
Meanwhile, leases to construct offshore wind turbines are beginning to pile up. There are no fewer than three north off Montauk Point already approved (one to Deepwater), another further west off Long island, and yet another off the coast of Northern New Jersey. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is pushing for at least two more leases to be awarded by the end of the year. Cuomo appointed nine of the 13 NYSERDA board members.
Critics contend Cuomo needs the power generated by the wind farms to offset the loss of the Indian Point, which has been decommissioned at his insistence. Indian Point provides much of New York City’s power.
The electricity generated off the Montauk coast could be headed in the other direction. Falcone agreed, but pointed out, “We own this when it hits our substation,” he said of the offshore power. He cautioned that the fittings at the Cove Hollow plant, and the cable coming in from offshore, weren’t big enough to handle the mammoth amount of energy that could be generated offshore should Deepwater increase production or piggy-back power from other wind farms into the Wainscott pipeline. “The infrastructure is sized to meet the needs of the South Fork. It’s built for that,” Falcone said. “It’s built for the local load.”
An underground cable from Beach Lane in Wainscott to the substation is not big enough to carry the massive loads of power that could be generated offshore. Another cable, or a bigger one, could conceivably be run through the same conduit. “It isn’t cheap in East Hampton,” Falcone said, while acknowledging it could be done and since the new substation in Wainscott hasn’t been started yet, plans could easily be altered.
There is also talk there may be two new substations coming to Wainscott. Deepwater Vice President Clint Plummer denied his company might build one on the site.
The question would then become: What will happen to all the wind generated power? “It’s not up to LIPA,” Falcone said. Some of the power generated close to New England, “may find its own path,” Falcone said, taking an overland route. It can still link up with the New York grid.
As for the cost of the offshore power, critics complain LIPA has agreed to purchase all of the power generated by South Fork Wind at a huge premium. Falcone was nonplussed. LIPA, he said, is constantly buying power on the open market, and the company “can make it up” elsewhere.
In addition to Falcone, LIPA’s Director of Customer Service Michael Deering, its Director of Communications Sidhartha Nathan, and Jen Hayen, Deputy Director of Communications also attended the meeting.