Suffolk Closeup: The future is beyond the horizon

COURTESY PHOTO | Massive wind turbines out at sea could be a clean solution to Long Island's energy needs.
COURTESY PHOTO | Massive wind turbines out at sea could be a clean solution to Long Island’s energy needs.

An energy revolution is happening just east of Shelter Island.

Deepwater Wind is constructing the nation’s first offshore wind farm — five turbines off Block Island — scheduled to be in operation this year.

Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind, emerging as the leading offshore wind company in the United States, is seeking to follow its Block Island project, with another one 30 miles southeast of Montauk.

Dubbed “Deepwater ONE,” it would initially involve 15 turbines. But the company’s goal is to install 200 turbines, capable of supplying a significant portion of Long Island’s electricity.

A key innovation made by Deepwater Wind is solving the problem of placing wind turbines in deep water, over the horizon and out of sight.

This model silences the complaints heard on Long Island 15 years ago when the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) proposed a wind farm off Jones Beach, which also were raised on Martha’s Vineyard when the Cape Wind company sought to build a wind farm off that Massachusetts island.

The need to place wind turbines in relatively shallow water and close to shore was a result of “old technology,” said Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind. “Our focus is to avoid the controversy entirely by locating wind turbines over the horizon,” says Mr. Plummer.

The U.S. has been exceedingly slow in moving ahead on offshore wind, a booming technology in Europe, notably in the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany. There are now 3,000 wind turbines off European shores. “Offshore wind is a vitally important resource for densely populated coastal areas,” Mr. Plummer noted. “The Europeans recognized that … The first offshore wind farm in the world was built off the coast of Denmark in 1991” and is “still operating.”

Globally, $20 billion a year is being invested in offshore wind, he added, employing 85,000 people.

“We have a real opportunity here in the United States, particularly in the Northeast — Long Island, New England, the Mid-Atlantic States,” Mr. Plummer said.

This part of the U.S. relies on old power plants and there will be a need here for a “massive change-over.” Offshore wind “can be a big part,” he said, “replacing the old, retiring, dirty and expensive fossil fuel plants” as well as “retiring nuclear facilities.”

For the same cost as building conventional power plants, there could be offshore wind farms. “We can do it cost-effectively,” Mr. Plummer said. “We can do it without controversy by installing wind turbines far enough offshore so they are over the horizon, and out of conflicted areas — shipping lanes and productive fishing areas.”

For the Montauk project, Deepwater Wind also seeks to combine energy storage with production. It is proposing two battery energy storage facilities on industrially zoned sites in Montauk and Wainscott to hold power when the winds are calm.

Offshore wind turbines also have an advantage over onshore turbines since the components for the latter have “real sizing constraints” — they must be transported “over roads and bridges and around corners,” Mr. Plummer said. Offshore wind turbines can be assembled at coastal sites and then “taken by barge off-shore.” That’s why, he added, the average size of a wind turbine on land is two to three megawatts while the larger offshore turbines are six to eight megawatts.

There has been worry among fishing interests on eastern Long Island, but Mr. Plummer says that Deepwater Wind’s turbines will be a mile apart providing plenty of room for fishing. He pledged Deepwater Wind would “work closely” with the fishing community.

As for the concern of birds getting killed, he said Deepwater Wind conducted a two-year study using “avian radar” and found that birds in migration hug the coast and are not out where the Deepwater Wind turbines would be located.

Although LIPA has not been bullish on offshore wind since its chairman, Richard Kessel, left office, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is highly enthusiastic. In January in his “State of the State” address he announced a wind power initiative involving government “at all levels” and the citizenry.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) applauded Mr. Cuomo’s “commitment to clean energy.” The NWF’s Northeast Regional Director Curtis Fisher said: “For the first time today, a New York governor highlighted the important role offshore wind power must play in its energy future.”