Suffolk Closeup: Blowin’ in the wind


Work began last week on the first offshore wind farm in the United States, off Block Island, 37 miles east of Shelter Island.

“It’s a small project but this is a big deal,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. “Paraphrasing Neil Armstrong, this is one small step for offshore wind power but it could turn out to be a giant leap for America’s energy future.”

The five six-megawatt wind turbines to be erected by Deepwater Wind will provide 30 megawatts of electricity, all the power needed by Block Island, now dependent on diesel oil generators.

Deepwater Wind, based in Rhode Island, has also sought to build a second, larger wind farm east of Long Island.

But in the most myopic of decisions, the trustees of the Long Island Power Authority voted this past December not to go ahead with this 210-megawatt wind farm. The LIPA trustees are appointed by the New York governor and leaders of the state legislature. Under the original legislation creating LIPA, they were supposed to be elected by Long Islanders.

The vote “signals that the LIPA board, PSEG Long Island and the governor were not serious about their commitment and are not going to uphold their commitment” for renewable energy, charged Lisa Dix, New York representative of the Sierra Club. “Their position is unacceptable. Long Islanders have been waiting for a really long time to have this promise fulfilled.”

PSEG is the New Jersey company that Governor Andrew Cuomo arranged to be the major operating electricity utility on Long Island starting this year, along with a major reduction in LIPA staff and clout.

Said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind: “With today’s decision, LIPA/PSEG missed an opportunity to build a 21st century energy supply for Long Island and a new local industry employing hundreds for years to come.”

Mr. Raacke of East Hampton said last week about the no vote to wind power: “It was utterly disappointing.” And multiplying that disappointment now, he said, is the push by PSEG and LIPA in recent months for “peaker” electric-generating plants burning oil and propane.

They are supposed to be used during high-demand or “peak” periods. The electricity generated by the Deepwater Wind turbines would have come at “a third of the cost of the ‘peaker’ plants,” he said. “And these ‘peaker’ plants are not only very costly but they are very polluting.”

Still, despite the huge Long Island misstep, off our shores the Block Island project is underway. “The importance of this day cannot be overstated,” declared Emily Norton, director of the Massachusetts chapter of Sierra Club, at a ceremony last Monday in North Kingstown, Rhode Island where parts for the turbines are being fabricated. “The Block Island Wind Farm is our Apollo 11 moment,” Ms. Norton added.

“I’m going to remember this day and tell my kids and grandkids that I was there when the first U.S. offshore wind farm was built.”

Public officials in attendance included Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (Block Island, although so close to Long Island, is part of Rhode Island) and Rhode Island U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Mr. Whitehouse called the project “a milestone in our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy, and I’m proud that Rhode Island is leading the way.”

Although this is the first offshore wind project in the U.S., in Europe “offshore wind is a booming industry and a major source of energy,” Mr. Raacke said. “There are thousands of megawatts of installed wind that have been in use there for decades.” He recounted a visit to an offshore wind farm off Copenhagen, Denmark and the wide support for it among Danes. He said offshore wind has “enormous potential” for Long Island and the U.S.

The Deepwater Wind project for Long Island would have involved wind turbines 30 miles east of Montauk Point, 53 miles east of Shelter Island. They would not have been visible from either location. The electricity would have come to Long Island through an undersea cable.

At the same LIPA meeting on December 17, the LIPA trustees voted to extend a contract to continue bringing electricity to Long Island from the FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in upstate Scriba. The irony is tragic: The main reasons LIPA was created was to stop the now defunct Long Island Lighting Company from opening the Shoreham nuclear plant and building other nuclear power plants here, as well as to facilitate the production of safe, renewable energy.

When will Long Island join Rhode Island in harvesting the power readily available offshore?