Suffolk Closeup: The answer is blowin’ in the wind

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.

A line of speakers testified last week at a state-sponsored hearing at the Suffolk County Center in Riverside on a plan that would have 50 percent of the electricity used in New York in 2030 come from renewable power.

This happened just one day before an announcement came that State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), both of whom represent Shelter Island, had introduced legislation to produce a game changer involving power in this area — a LIPA Ratepayers Protection Act.

Praising the state for making “renewable energy a priority,” Janet Van Sickle of Montauk declared before a panel from the state Department of Public Service at the hearing that “We owe our children and our grandchildren a sustainable future.”

Gordian Raacke, executive director of East Hampton-based Renewable Energy Long Island, testified that the state plan is a “huge step forward and a right step forward.”

He, like other speakers, emphasized the importance of off-shore wind energy to reach a goal of half of electricity coming from renewable sources for the East End. Mr. Raacke said that “we have a tremendous and abundant resource” in offshore wind. “We need to tap into that resource.”

“I love the ocean,” said Julie Burmeister of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee and also the Southampton Town Sustainability Committee. Winds blowing out in the ocean are, she said, “the solution” to energy needs here.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, noted that his company was now “completing” the first U.S. offshore wind farm off Block Island, east of Shelter Island. And, Mr. Plummer continued, it is readying a project for an even larger wind farm southeast of Montauk. He said offshore wind “holds a very unique potential” and it also “solves” the energy issue for this area. Moreover, Deepwater Wind’s turbines are “over the horizon and out of sight.”

What the state is calling a “50 by 30” plan, advanced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is formally titled a “Clean Energy Standard.” As the Department of Public Service explained in a statement: “Governor Cuomo directed the Public Service Commission to design and enact a new Clean Energy Standard mandating that 50 percent of all electricity consumed in New York by 2030 come from clean and renewable energy sources.”

However, the next line in the statement is: “The proposed Clean Energy mandate also includes a proposal to support emissions-free upstate nuclear power.” That component of the state plan drew strong criticism at the public hearing.

“Nuclear energy is neither clean nor renewable,” testified Pauline Salotti, vice chair of the Green Party of Suffolk County. “No way should it be considered renewable.”

Mr. Raacke said that the state should not seek to “prop up nuclear power” and spoke of the “nuclear folly” that went on “for years” in the push for the Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island and the successful struggle against it. He objected to a “revisit to that past in the plan.”

Otherwise, there was general support by those speaking in the hearing room in the Evans K. Griffing Building. Jeff Kagan of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations said “we’re all breathing bad air now” and that this is having a health impact. By utilizing renewable energy, there would be “cost-savings” by the avoidance of “medical impacts” of fossil fuel energy. However, said Mr. Kagan, the “devil is in the details” in the state plan.

A key element of the LIPA Ratepayers Protection Act, written by Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Thiele, is the return to the original vision of the Long Island Power Authority when it was created — a public power entity with democratically-elected trustees mapping the energy future of Long Island.

Governor Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, when he was governor, suspended the democratic election of LIPA trustees replacing it with their appointment by the governor, State Assembly speaker and State Senate majority leader. Under the LaValle-Thiele measure, LIPA trustees would be elected “by the people of Long Island from eight districts of equal population.”

Further, the act “would restore transparency, oversight and local control” to LIPA, said the two lawmakers in a statement. This would include “restoring the oversight” of LIPA by the state comptroller and state attorney general and making “the issuance of any further debt by LIPA … subject to a mandatory referendum of residents in the LIPA service area. LIPA would be responsible to Long Islanders, not Albany.”

Also, their measure would “empower the Department of Public Service … to approve rate requests, not merely make recommendations.”

Andrew Cuomo, with what he called a LIPA “reform” measure in 2013, decimated LIPA — a move that Mr. LaValle and Mr. Thiele correctly see as a huge mistake that they are trying to undo to bring real reform.