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Suffolk Closeup: A boat ride into the future


“On a clear day, you can see the future,” is the heading of a full-page Citibank ad that’s been running in major magazines featuring a color photo of the first offshore wind farm in the United States.

Two weeks ago I visited this facility, which is 37 miles east of Shelter Island off Block Island. The trip was organized by its builder, Deepwater Wind, and Renewable Energy Long Island, a group that has long urged the utilization of the wind that blows off our shores.

The use of offshore wind is especially important for the East Coast of the U.S. with its big cities and well-populated stretches between them, which is problematic for siting on-land wind turbines.

The five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm is proposed to be followed by a 15-turbine South Fork Wind Farm — also constructed by Deepwater Wind — 30 miles southeast of Montauk. The Town of East Hampton is already planning to have 100 percent of its electricity coming from this offshore wind source and solar energy by 2020.

It’s got a good shot of meeting its goal area and achieving, as East Hampton intends, 100 percent renewable energy in just three short years.

It took an hour on the boat to travel to where the five turbines stood, their 240-foot long blades revolving slowly, silently, gracefully.

“Awesome!” exclaimed one passenger on the boatload of local officials and environmentalists.

“I’m struck by their silence and certainly those blades have a really elegant appearance,” said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) whose district includes Shelter Island.

“It’s very impressive,” said Joseph O’Byrne, office manager  of Sylvester Manor.

He added that the Manor is now raising money to “rebuild our own windmill, and here is the newest version.” “Beautiful,” declared another onlooker.

Indeed, the wind turbines are beautiful. And, I daresay, if they could be reduced in size and were able to fit into the Museum of Modern Art, they would have an honored place.

“The U.S. needs more renewable energy, a problem felt on Block Island, Rhode Island, where residents paid some of the highest electricity prices in the country while burning a million gallons of diesel fuel each year,” says the Citibank ad.

“Citi provided long-term financing to help Deepwater Wind build the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. — part of Citi’s $100 billion commitment to finance sustainable energy projects. The Block Island Wind Farm can help lower electric bills by up to 40 percent and reduce carbon emissions by 40,000 tons a year, ushering in a new era of American renewables.”

The Block Island Wind Farm is providing all the island’s energy needs and sending much of the electricity on to mainland Rhode Island.

Each turbine generates six megawatts of electricity, significantly more than on-land wind turbines that have to be trucked to where they are placed, going on highways, fitting under bridges, limiting their size.

Offshore wind turbines are assembled in coastal areas and barged out to be placed at sea so they can be larger and harvest more electricity.

Europeans have been constructing offshore wind farms for decades. There are thousands of turbines in the waters off the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and on the other side of the planet, China is building them. At long last, the U.S. is doing it.

New York State has identified more than 1 million acres of offshore waters south of Long Island as possible wind energy areas, according to a report issued by the state earlier this month.

The sites present, it said, the “fewest conflicts with ocean users, natural resources, infrastructure and wildlife, and the greatest potential for the cost-effective development of offshore wind energy to meet the state’s goals.”

The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority is the key state agency and emphasizes, “Offshore wind turbines will be located far offshore and will not be noticeable from the shoreline” — an objection raised in earlier efforts to develop offshore wind both off Long Island and Martha’s Vineyard.

A technological achievement of Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind was figuring out how wind turbines can be placed in deep water — thus its name — and avoid these concerns.

As the boat neared Montauk on its return, Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, said: “We just saw the future of energy right off our shores.”