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Suffolk Closeup: Energy is blowin’ in the wind

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“We are witnessing a tipping point in energy history and today’s commitment to large-scale investment in offshore wind power proves that New York walks the walk of powering our economy with renewable energy,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island following approval by Governor Andrew Cuomo of two major wind farms in waters off Long Island.

Mr. Cuomo, in his July 18th announcement of the projects said that “with this agreement, New York will lead the way in developing the largest source of offshore wind power in the nation.”

One of the projects will be 30 miles east of Montauk Point (about 40 miles from Shelter Island), and the other is 14 to 30 miles off Nassau County and a portion of southwest Suffolk County.

The project off Montauk Point, if 10 megawatt turbines are used, would have 82 turbines and the project off Nassau and southwest Suffolk 88.

“Offshore Wind Farms Are Spinning Up In The US — At Last,” headlined Wired magazine in April. Its article noted that “wind power is nothing new in this country” and 56,000 wind turbines are in operation on land. “But wind farms located offshore, where wind blows steady and strong, unobstructed by buildings or mountains, have yet to start cranking” — but that is changing. A factor in that is “the technology needed to install them farther away from shore has improved … making them more palatable to nearby communities.”

Economics greatly favors wind energy. Wired noted that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in April awarded Vineyard Wind a contract to provide electricity from offshore wind turbines “at 8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.” The average price of electricity per kilowatt-hour in the U.S. is currently more than 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

The wind — and the sun — don’t send bills. Once wind turbines are erected, or solar panels installed, there’s no charge for fuel. Energy blows in the wind and shines down from the sun freely.

Still, said Wired, developers of offshore wind need to “respond to concerns about potential harm to fisheries and marine life.” That issue has been raised by fishing interests and others in the Town of East Hampton where a 15-turbine wind farm also east of Montauk Point has been proposed. (It’s not part of the projects just given the state green light.) In East Hampton, the group Win With Wind has formed and maintains that offshore wind and fishing can be compatible.

Leading figures in Win With Wind are former East Hampton Town Supervisors Judith Hope and Larry Cantwell, both with exemplary environmental records.

Offshore wind power has been booming outside the U.S. for years. Indeed, Denmark-based Orsted, involved in the wind farm Mr. Cuomo approved off Montauk Point, operates 1,150 offshore wind turbines off Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, Taiwan and Holland.

“We’ve built more offshore wind farms than any other developer in the world and we’ve only begun,” Orsted says on its website. “The Orsted vision is a world that runs entirely on green energy.”

Orsted purchased Deepwater Wind of Rhode Island last year and then entered into a partnership on several projects with Eversource, the largest energy supplier in New England. Orsted and Eversource are partners in the two wind farms proposed off Montauk Point.

The first offshore wind farm to rise in U.S. waters was developed by Deepwater Wind and began running off Block Island in 2016. It’s now operated by Orsted. I’ve been to the five-turbine Block Island wind farm and it is impressive. Each turbine occupies a small footprint in the ocean. Their 240-foot-long blades revolve slowly, silently, indeed gracefully.

“Awesome!” said one passenger on the boatload of officials and environmentalists. “Beautiful,” said another.

At a beach on Block Island there are cable connections, but you could not notice them. They run underground. Their only sign is a conventional manhole cover used for maintenance located in the parking lot of the public beach. Another concern expressed by some in East Hampton has involved the location of wind farm cables onto shore.

Mr. Cuomo not only approved the two wind power projects but at the same signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed by the state legislature in June. The act’s provisions include requiring New York to achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2040.

A contradiction to the state’s approach is Mr. Cuomo having in recent years pushed a $7.6 bailout of four uneconomic upstate nuclear power plants, a bailout now underway. It is adding a surcharge on the electric bills of every individual ratepayer, business, educational and governmental entity in the state.

It is predicated on the false claim that nuclear power doesn’t emit carbon-based greenhouse gases when, in fact, the “nuclear cycle” including mining, milling and fuel enrichment is carbon intensive and nuclear plants themselves have emissions including radioactive carbon.