Suffolk Closeup: Beyond the blue 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.

Will 2017 be a big year for offshore wind energy in this area?

Last month, five wind turbines erected by the Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind company in the Atlantic east of Shelter Island, near Block Island, started spinning and generating 30 megawatts of electricity. It became the first offshore United States wind farm. Moreover, Deepwater Wind is planning additional and larger offshore wind farms southeast of Long Island and south of New York City.

And last month, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that Norway-based Statoil Wind, an international energy company, won a $42 million federal lease to put up 194 wind turbines off Jones Beach.

Outgoing U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell declared that the lease auction won by Statoil “underscores the growing market demand for renewable energy among our coastal communities.”

Offshore wind energy has been taking off, especially in Europe. The U.S. is only now getting involved. “For European Wind Industry, Offshore Projects Are Booming” was the headline of an October article on the Yale University website “environment 360.”

“The importance of wind farms at sea has grown dramatically in the past several years,” it reported. “Until 2011, between 5 and 10 percent of newly installed wind energy capacity in Europe was offshore.

Last year, almost every third new wind turbine went offshore …. More than 3,300 grid-connected turbines now exist in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Irish Sea … This is in stark contrast to the U.S. and Asia, where offshore wind use is just getting started.”

For areas such as Long Island and Shelter Island, harvesting the winds that blow offshore is especially ideal.

As The New York Times declared in an editorial — “The Unlimited Power of Ocean Winds” — that ran in August and heralded the five-turbine farm east of Shelter Island: “Putting windmills offshore, where the wind is stronger and more reliable than on land, could theoretically provide about four times the amount of electricity as is generated on the American grid today from all sources. This resource could be readily accessible to areas on the coasts, where 53 percent of Americans live.”

“There are 22 other offshore wind projects in various stages of development across the country,” The Times stated. “Many of them are in the Northeast, including a proposal before the Long Island Power Authority for a wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk that would supply electricity to the Hamptons.” (This is one of Deepwater Wind’s proposed projects, and the company is also including energy storage as an important component.)

The Times concluded: “A few decades ago, the idea of harnessing the power of ocean winds seemed entirely impractical. In the next 10 years, these offshore farms should become commonplace.”

But will this happen under the new Trump administration? “Awful” is the word reportedly used by the president-elect about Scottish wind farms, according to a BBC dispatch in November. He was said to have used the term at a meeting with British politician Nigel Farage, a leader in advocating the exit of the U.K. from the European Union.

A Times article on that meeting said: “When President-elect Trump met with Farage in recent days, he encouraged Mr. Farage and his entourage to oppose the kind of offshore wind farms that Mr. Trump believes will mar the pristine view from one of his two Scottish golf courses.”

This Times piece added: “Trump did not say he hated wind farms as a concept; he just did not like them spoiling the views.”

There has, indeed, been concern raised about the visual impacts of offshore wind turbines. This ended an earlier plan for turbines to be placed in the Nantucket Sound, near Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts, and it badly hurt an initial proposal for turbines going up off Jones Beach. But a major technological innovation by Deepwater Wind has led to wind turbines being able to be placed beyond the horizon, out of sight.

There are also concerns by commercial fishing interests about offshore turbines negatively impacting their operations — and this needs to be worked out. Further, noted Long Island naturalist Larry Penny of Noyac opposes them as constituting an “industrialization” of the oceans. This, too, is a criticism that needs to be taken seriously.

But my view is that, on balance, offshore wind is an excellent source of power just waiting to be utilized — it’s literally there “blowin’ in the wind” — and with requisite environmental sensitivity and concern will provide clean, safe, green energy.