Wind Farm Debate Deepens

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. Durell Godfrey

The communitywide debate about the South Fork Wind Farm, a proposed 15-turbine installation approximately 36 miles from Montauk, continued on Oct. 4 when the East Hampton Town Trustees’ harbor management committee and the town’s energy sustainability advisory committee hosted a forum that featured speakers both in favor of and opposed to the project. 

Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island company that plans to build the wind farm, is engaged in survey work and community outreach. It plans to submit permit applications to some 26 federal, state, and local entities in the first quarter of 2018. If all goes according to its plan, construction would begin in 2021, with the wind farm operational late in 2022. 

Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, told the gathering that the feedback his company has solicited from residents is helping to shape the project. He pointed to the company’s reconsideration of the transmission cable’s route from the wind farm to the shore, in response to concern from commercial fishermen that a route through Gardiner’s Bay would damage habitat and disrupt their livelihood, as an example. 

“We’re now considering three potential South Shore landing locations based on consultations with a wide variety of groups right here in East Hampton,” he said, “and are working to gather the data necessary to make a decision on what the most appropriate of those locations is.” Under consideration are landings at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk, the end of Napeague Lane in Amagansett, and around Beach Lane in Wainscott. “We’re changing the design of the project to make it work best for this community,” he said, “and we will continue to do so.”

Once it reaches land, the cable will be laid at least 10 feet underground, he said, via horizontal directional drilling. “I want to reassure the community that we understand the importance of beaches,” he said, hence a drilling methodology that will preclude construction on the beach. Should the project proceed, construction will happen in the off-season, he said, primarily between November and March. 

Permit applications will be subject to “a long public review process,” he said. “It will make the project better.” 

Deepwater Wind built the Block Island Wind Farm, a five-turbine installation that went online in December. For that project, the company undertook multiple environmental surveys. “When we have comparable science for the South Fork Wind Farm, we’ll come back and present those findings as well,” Mr. Plummer said. Initial findings in post-construction surveys of the Block Island installation indicate no detrimental effects on fish habitat or commercial fishing activities, he said. 

The Block Island project created around 300 jobs in Rhode Island, he said. “We’re evaluating the potential for basing our operations and maintenance — permanent jobs in connection with the project — right here in East Hampton.”

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, was unmoved. A vocal critic of the proposal, she said that “an industrial project does not belong on fishing grounds” because of “the environmental harm they create from the construction phase through to operation.” The sound pressure produced by pile-driving the turbines’ bases deep into the ocean floor can kill and maim marine life, she said, causing permanent damage that renders fish unable to navigate and communicate. “When that pile-driving occurs,” she said, “it occurs for days on end.”

Jet-plowing the sea floor to create a liquefied trench, into which the transmission cable is laid, will annihilate fish and larvae, Ms. Brady said. Buildup of silt behind turbines’ foundations will “choke out the species that live there,” such as crabs and lobsters. Studies have shown that the electromagnetic field emanating from the transmission cable attracts sharks, she said, altering the existing habitat. 

“By putting these things in areas where fish live or migrate through, we’re taking chances on our own food supply,” Ms. Brady said. “Please reconsider this project.”

But Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment noted that some of the fossil-fuel plants providing energy for Long Island have been killing fish and larvae for decades, and two transmission cables have long connected the Island with the mainland. Those concerned about fish should know that the Northport Power Station and the E.F. Barrett Power Station, in Island Park, use a “once-through” cooling system. “That means they are sucking water out of our estuaries, putting it through the power plant, cooling it down, and discharging it into our estuaries.”

The E.F. Barrett plant draws 294 million gallons of South Shore estuary water every day, Ms. Esposito said, killing some 906 million larvae or finfish each year in the process. “But that’s not the worst one on Long Island,” she said. “Northport is considered the fish killer in the Northeast,” drawing 939 million gallons of water each day and killing 8.4 billion fish larvae or shellfish annually. “These plants have been doing this for 50 years,” she said.

Wind power is not perfect, Ms. Esposito said. “All large-scale energy infrastructure has some impact to the environment and the society.” But “when you say no to wind, you’re saying yes to what we’re currently using.”

Brad Loewen, chairman of the town’s fisheries advisory committee, asked that Deepwater Wind establish a fund “that will be used to benefit the fishing industry in East Hampton.” The trustees and a committee of fishermen would administer the fund, which he said would further scientific and socioeconomic research of the fishing community and fund legal opinions and decisions about existing and future wind farms and other issues. If Deepwater Wind sincerely wants to benefit that community, “they will put their money where their mouth is,” Mr. Loewen said. 

Gordian Raacke, the executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island and a member of the energy sustainability committee, summarized the views of the wind farm’s proponents. “The oceans have been absorbing the carbon dioxide we’ve been pushing into the atmosphere” since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and they are 30 percent more acidic as a consequence. If we continue on this course, the climate will reach “a point of no return” characterized by “dramatic and catastrophic effects . . . that we could never undo.” To return to a safe level, “we have to immediately reduce carbon emission from all sectors,” he said, “starting with energy production.”

Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment .Durell Godfrey