South Fork Wind Farm Debate Continues
Even with approximately 60 comments at the East Hampton Town Trustees’ joint hearing with the town board on May 17 on the proposed South Fork Wind Farm, the trustees have agreed to accept comment through next Thursday from others who wish to be heard. At their meeting on Friday, a few of those who spoke on May 17 were among those who had more to say.
The trustees assert jurisdiction over the ocean beach in Wainscott, where Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island developer seeking to build 15 turbines offshore, said is its preferred landing site for a transmission cable.
The trustees are debating whether to grant a lease to Deepwater Wind to bury the cable under the beach, from which it would be routed underground to a Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton.
Michael Northrup of Springs, who serves on the town’s waterfront advisory board, told the trustees at the meeting that climate change is “a battle we are all losing, a catastrophe coming our way like a freight train.” In arguing for the wind farm, Mr. Northrup, who is program director of a sustainable development grant-making program at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, said that, left unchecked, climate change will have a catastrophic impact on shorelines and oceans. Though there is no silver bullet, there is plenty of “silver buckshot,” he said, and “one of the bigger pieces of buckshot is offshore wind.”
Taking a larger view, Mr. Northrup referred to plans for development of more and bigger offshore wind farms off the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts. “There’s a lot of supply-chain jobs and all kinds of other economic opportunities that’s going to come with that,” he said, adding that New York risked losing it to neighboring states if it does not embrace the emerging energy resource. “It’s pragmatic to think we should try to capture as much of that as we can,” he said.
Last week, Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and Jeff Grybowski, Deepwater Wind’s chief executive officer, announced that Revolution Wind, a proposed wind farm in the same federal lease area as the South Fork Wind Farm, is expected to create more than 800 immediate construction jobs along with 50 permanent jobs and hundreds more in indirect fields. Deepwater Wind also announced a $250 million local investment.
“The upsides seem enormous, and the downsides of climate change are so horrible,” Mr. Northrup said. “The costs of climate change are so huge that I hope that we can live with offshore wind, hopefully not giant costs from moving ahead.”
Alice Tepper Marlin, also of Springs, warned that “the adverse effects on marine life of burning fossil fuels are far more deleterious than any possible adverse effects of siting and operating the wind turbines. . . . Every year that we delay, we are further acidifying our oceans, we are allowing climate change to accelerate and continue.”
She and Mr. Northrup urged the trustees to allow the transmission cable to land at Wainscott, which they said would allow them to maintain some influence on the planning and construction and that would result in the town’s receiving the community benefits package Deepwater Wind has proposed.
But Thomas Bjurlof, who lives in Port Jefferson and said he had been a consultant to governments including Germany, which has deployed more than 1,100 wind turbines since 2009, said that “offshore wind, if not implemented properly, will create many, many new fossil power plants.” This has happened in Germany, he said, “following massive investment in offshore wind.”
Germany’s energy consumption increased by an estimated 0.8 percent in 2017 over the previous year, according to a report by AG Energiebilanzen, a group focused on energy accounting. The increase is attributed to a positive economic trend. The report notes that coal consumption decreased by 10.4 percent in 2017, and electricity generated by nuclear power fell by 10.3 percent, while single-digit increases were recorded for oil and natural gas. Electricity generated by renewable sources, including wind, rose by 6.1 percent and now accounts for 13.1 percent of total energy consumption. “For energy-related [carbon dioxide] emissions, the AG Energiebilanzen anticipates a stagnating development,” the report says.
“A country’s carbon emissions are subject to many factors,” Gordian Raacke, of the advocacy group Renewable Energy Long Island, said in an email on Tuesday. Germany closed many nuclear power plants, he said, following the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, “which resulted in coal plants to continue to operate beyond their planned retirement, operate more hours of the year, or burn more polluting types of coal.”
Mr. Bjurlof urged the trustees to disregard any perceived pressure to grant a lease to Deepwater Wind before the developer submits applications to federal and state permitting agencies. The trustees, he said, should go through Article VII, a public review process under state law, “and get all of the facts and be under the guidance of some expert or judge who is used to these kind of proceedings. . . . If you sign a lease or an easement at this point, you take yourself out of the proceeding. You essentially become a spectator.” The trustees have previously stated their intention to apply for intervener status under Article VII.
Simon Kinsella of Wainscott, an opponent of the South Fork Wind Farm, said the conduit through which the transmission cable is to be routed would be 24 inches in diameter, large enough to fit three 138-kilovolt cables. “Why are they putting in this huge conduit for just one cable?” he asked, suggesting a potential carrying capacity of 1,200 megawatts, although the wind farm is to be a 90-megawatt installation.
Clint Plummer, Deepwater Wind’s vice president of development, said in an email on Tuesday that his company “has publicly committed that the easements we have requested will only be used for a single export cable to serve the 15 turbines planned for the South Fork Wind Farm.” The grid in East Hampton is weak, Mr. Plummer said, and could not support a larger project such as that suggested by Mr. Kinsella. LIPA’s request for proposals for meeting the South Fork’s energy needs, he said, “was because there was a need for a specific quantity of energy to be generated in East Hampton to support the grid and serve a growing need.”
But opponents of the wind farm echoed Mr. Bjurlof’s exhortation not to rush into a lease agreement. “It’s going to happen,” Rachel Gruzen of Amagansett said of offshore wind, “but you want to do it right. We need an architecture and a framework for evaluation.” Citing an information vacuum, she said “every experienced professional environmental planner, conservationist, renewable energy expert I spoke to is either straightforward opposed to this project or asking to hit the pause button so we can do further review.” She called the $8.45-million community benefits package “a drop in the bucket,” and said it was “manipulation tactics.”
Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association repeated a call made at the May 17 joint hearing to deny access to Deepwater Wind until it has completed a comprehensive fisheries monitoring and mitigation plan, with compensation if needed. Steve Gauger, a fisherman, said the town should look to onshore wind and solar power if it wants to maintain control over energy. “There’s just too many questions, it’s going to be too expensive,” he said of the South Fork Wind Farm. He and Manny Vilar, a candidate for town supervisor last year, pointed to the project as a component of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s political ambitions. “If you don’t feel like a political pawn, you should,” Mr. Vilar told the trustees. “There clearly is a much bigger political picture here.”
Also at the meeting, John Aldred, a trustee, told his colleagues that the environmental studies chief of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Office of Renewable Energy Programs had responded to the request for a study of the effects of the electromagnetic field emanating from a transmission cable on near-shore migratory fish behavior, a concern expressed by many fishermen. Such a study is proposed for part of the planning process, Mr. Aldred said. Mary Boatman, the environmental studies chief, said she hoped a final report would be ready by the end of 2019, Mr. Aldred said. Should the study’s results identify potential concerns, recommendations for further fieldwork would follow.