By Stephen J. Kotz
Representatives of the New York State Energy Research Development Agency came to Southampton on July 12 as part of a three-day swing across Long Island to solicit public comment on an ambitious plan backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to develop 2.4 gig watts of wind power across a broad swath of the Atlantic Ocean south of Long Island.
The proposal, known as the Clean Energy Standard, is part of the state’s long-term energy master plan, in which it proposes to obtain 50 percent of its electricity through renewable sources by 2030. As part of that goal, the state also wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and achieve a 23-percent reduction the amount of energy used in buildings across the state.
Doreen Harris, the director of NYSERDA’s large-scale renewables program, and Gregory Matzat, a senior advisor to the program, gave a brief overview of the project in which the state wants to site wind turbines throughout a roughly 16,700-square mile section of the ocean off the Long Island coast.
Although Ms. Harris said NYSERDA was working with local, state and federal agencies as it moves forward, the purpose of Wednesday’s meeting and two others held earlier in Melville and Long Beach, was to solicit public comment.
“It is very important we hear from you to make sure everyone’s views are taken into account,” she said.
The target of 2.4 gigawatts, or 2,400 megawatts, would provide enough energy for 1.25 million houses, Ms. Harris said, while adding that the federal government, which would lease the sea bottom for the projects, believes the area could produce some 39 gigawatts of energy, enough to power 15 million houses.
Although the 16,700-square-mile study area is huge, Mr. Matzat said it would not all be used. “We don’t need anyone near this area. In fact, we need 2 percent of this area,” he said.
Planners envision anywhere from three to six separate projects with a total of 240 to 300 8-to-10 megawatt turbines. Mr. Matzat said that the turbines would typically be about a mile apart, in part, to reduce any possible interference they would cause to the wind flow around neighboring turbines.
By comparison, Deepwater Wind’s proposed 90-megawatt South Fork Wind Farm off the coast of Montauk will require a dozen to 16 turbines. When it goes online in 2022, it will provide the first portion of that 2,400-megawatt goal, Mr. Matzat said.
The South Fork Wind Farm is important, he said, because “the project was in a competition to supply electricity on the South Fork against both traditional and renewable sources and it was able to win that competition.”
He noted that while wind power remains pricey, the cost is going down, thanks to reductions in the cost of turbines, a growing number of manufacturers to supply the business and increased competition.
“In the last two years in Europe, the cost of electricity from offshore wind has gone down 50 percent,” he said.
Mr. Matzat told the gathering that NYSERDA is involved in more than 20 studies and surveys to learn more about the environmental and economic effects of developing offshore wind.
Although Mr. Matzat said planners “really want to work with the fishing community to figure out where we can best site these to have the minimum impact possible,” Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association disagreed, saying not enough was being done to listen to fishermen.
“In case you haven’t heard, commercial fishermen have a huge issue with offshore wind because it is sticking these things on our work sites,” she said. Fishermen, she added, are worried about the impact on fish and other marine life from the pile-driving required to set turbine towers, the sedimentation and silting that will accompany such work and the electromagnetic fields the underground cables will produce.
“These things shouldn’t be anywhere fish live, breed, or migrate,” she said, adding that if planners reached out to fishermen they might learn a thing or two about where to place the turbines.
Mr. Matzat insisted that NYSERDA “has been reaching out to the fishing community. We have been sitting down with some of the fishing community who are willing to sit down with us,” but Ms. Brady said a wider cross-section of the industry needed to be brought to the table.
“I support renewable energy, but not at the cost of an entire industry. Not at the cost of the decimation of our commercial fishing families,” said Southampton Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, whose husband is a commercial fisherman. “We must start the discussion now, on the siting issues. The wind farm developers must work directly with the fishing community to reduce the conflicts that siting a wind farm in the ocean most definitely present.”
Scott Carlin, a member of Southampton Town’s Sustainability Committee, said one way for NYSERDA to bridge the gap between it and fishermen would be to have an office on Long Island.
“Most of us want this succeed, but we want this succeed in a way where the fishermen benefit and the electric system benefits,” he said.
Krae Van Sickle, who serves on East Hampton Town’s Energy Sustainability Committee, urged participants to put it in perspective. He said he understood that fishermen were concerned about their livelihood, but suggested that global warming and acid rain were having a bigger long-term effect than wind turbines would have.
“I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game,” he said. “I completely believe it is possible to have a compatible offshore wind farm and a fishing industry.”