By Peter Boody
If there are any downsides to having an array of five massive wind turbines cranking out 30 megawatts of electricity a few miles offshore, the negatives barely registered Monday when about 60 East Enders rode the Viking Superstar from Montauk to see Deepwater Wind’s $300-million Block Island wind farm up close.
Visible from Montauk Point, it has been operating for less than a year. It is the first offshore wind farm in the United States.
Renewable Energy Long Island, a non-profit based in East Hampton that counts Deepwater Wind among its members, invited town officials, political candidates, members of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, the press and local environmental professionals. A second group was scheduled to take the tour on October 14.
“There is a fear of the unknown,” said Gordian Raacke, the executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island aboard the Viking Starship. The purpose of the trip was “to put a face on” the Deepwater project.
After the 15-mile ride to the site, three officials from Deepwater mingled with the passengers, answering questions, while the Viking Superstar lolled under sunny skies and a slight northeast breeze around the bases of the turbines, which tower up to 600 feet above the ocean.
Then the group pulled into New Harbor for a bus ride to the town beach where a cable from the wind farm arrives on land — buried at least10 feet under the dunes — and another exits the island to make a connection to National Grid’s power network in Rhode Island. There is no sign of either cable except for a few manhole covers in the parking lot. The cables continue underground along local roads to the island’s town-owned electric company.
The final stop on the trip was Southeast Light atop Mohegan Bluffs, the lawn of which offers a sweeping view of the five turbines offshore
Although there were dozens of questions about project, the only topic of concern that surfaced Monday was its effect on marine life. Pressed by a passenger to explain what the impacts might be that worry commercial fishermen, Clint Plumber, Deepwater’s vice president for development, said, “We don’t think there are any.” He did go on to acknowledge fishermen’s concerns about possible impacts on migration patterns and other behaviors.
Block Islander Bryan Wilson, a past member of the New Shoreham Town Council who serves as local manager of Deepwater’s wind farm, told the visitors that the island’s last full-time lobsterman had told him he’d seen no impact on the harvest during the farm’s construction in 2015 and 2016. A single lobster boat was working the turbine area as the Viking Superstar lolled nearby.
Mr. Wilson said recreational fishermen love the turbines because their underwater components act as reefs that attract fish.
The Block Island Wind Farm went on line in May. It can supply power for about 17,000 homes, far more than Block Island’s approximately 1,00 full-time residents need. Deepwater sells 90 percent of the farm’s output to National Grid, which can provide the island with backup power through the new undersea cable in case the wind farm goes off line. A third backup is the old diesel generating station that formerly powered the island.
The wind farm has not reduced electric rates but Mr. Wilson said it has made power more stable and reliable.
Deepwater is proposing a larger version of the Block Island project, a 90-megawatt farm with about 15 turbines, for a site about 15 miles farther east to supply electricity to East Hampton and Southampton towns through a cable buried in the sea floor.
Early in 2017, LIPA signed an agreement with Deepwater to accept the proposed wind farm’s electricity into its grid. Many more state, local and federal permits are required before construction starts.
The East Hampton Town Board has gone on record in favor of the larger project as a way of meeting its goal of using only renewable energy sources to meet the town’s electrical demand by 2020. The Southampton Town Board has adopted a similar energy goal.