Suffolk Closeup: No progress on wind power projects

COURTESY PHOTO Is Governor Andrew Cuomo living up to his pledges to be an environmentalist?
COURTESY PHOTO Did Governor Andrew Cuomo help scuttle a wind power project for Long Island?

There were mixed happenings last week for green energy in and out of Suffolk County.

The expected approval by the Long Island Power Authority of what would be the nation’s largest offshore wind energy project, slated to be built in the Atlantic 30 miles southeast of Montauk by the Deepwater Wind company, was suddenly postponed.

Why? Did Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been micro-managing energy policy in New York State — and has been all over the power map in doing so — have a hand in it?

Mr. Cuomo has been demanding the Indian Point nuclear power plants, 26 miles north of New York City and 84 miles from Shelter Island, be closed. He also declared a ban on fracking in the state. But at the same time he has been aggressively promoting the continued operation of nuclear plants upstate.

His proposed state-wide “Clean Energy Standard” would designate those nuclear plants as providing “clean and renewable” energy. And Mr. Cuomo was responsible for bringing the New Jersey-based PSEG to Long Island to be its main electric utility.

Also last week, the push to allow a solar power system to be built on 25 acres of the historic Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank ended. This occurred after a Suffolk Legislature committee received a highly critical statement on it from a farmer long-involved in seeking to save agricultural land in Suffolk. The committee then voted to table action on the bill.

A statement from environmental organizations castigating LIPA for putting off its scheduled vote on Deepwater Wind placing 15 wind turbines off Montauk came from groups that included the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Renewable Energy Long Island. The statement was headlined: “Deep Disappointment.”

It noted that, just a week earlier, Mr. Cuomo said, “I strongly encourage the [LIPA] trustees to once again demonstrate New York’s leadership on climate change and help achieve the state’s ambitious goal of supplying 50 percent of our electricity from renewable energy by 2030.”

The organizations said “we are calling on Governor Cuomo to follow through on this commitment to support offshore wind and work with LIPA to expeditiously reschedule this historic vote … When opportunity knocks, we must open the door. We need Governor Cuomo to ensure this vote happens quickly so that offshore wind power becomes a reality for New York.”

The claimed reason for the abrupt postponement was a last-minute request by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) “for a brief delay of the LIPA board vote so the project can be examined in the broader context of the Offshore Wind Master Plan, the development of which NYSERDA is heading for the state,” NYSERDA’s announcement said. According to NYSERDA’s website, it is “governed by a 13-member board appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the New York State Senate.”

In the days before the LIPA postponement, there were numerous media reports anticipating a favorable LIPA vote, including an Associated Press article quoting Thomas Falcone, LIPA chief executive officer, saying the offshore wind farm would be “the largest to date” and “a tremendous offshore wind resource … and it’s not the last … I think this is a very big step for New York, but also for the United States.”

Deepwater Wind, headquartered in Rhode Island, is now completing the placement of five wind turbines off Block Island. They are to go online producing 30 megawatts later this year. The 15-turbine wind farm off Montauk would generate 90 megawatts and, according to Mr. Falcone, power could be reaching Long Island from it by 2022.

Deepwater Wind has mastered the building of wind turbines to go far out to sea, eliminating complaints about earlier proposed U.S. offshore wind projects being too close to the coastline and, for some people, aesthetically disturbing. It hopes to eventually have 200 wind turbines off Montauk and another 200 off New Jersey.

Meanwhile, also last week, Lee Fosterand  her husband Cliff are farmers in Sagaponack and early and leading supporters of the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program, said in a statement to the Suffolk Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee: “Why is it that farmland is so quickly identified as something else? As to the County Farm at Yaphank and this recent issue of transformation into something solar, there is an underlying misconception that farmland is in excess, unimportant and won’t be missed. Actually, farmland is irreplaceable … and worse, this particular resource is vested by soil, sweat, easements and history that can’t be replaced or reincarnated.”

Robert Carpenter, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, testified that the placement of solar arrays on 25 acres at the County Farm would set a bad “precedent” for farmland designated for preservation by Suffolk County.