East Hampton Town Trustees Hear from Public on South Fork Wind Farm

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A tour of Deepwater Wind's wind farm off Block Island. Peter Boody photo

Residents, both for and against a proposal by Deepwater Wind to secure an easement from the East Hampton Town Trustees to land a power cable in Wainscott for the proposed South Fork Wind Farm, attended Monday’s trustees meeting with some calling on the board to consider the big-picture ramifications of global warming. Others questioned whether the project would solve the energy demands of the peak summer season on the South Fork.

Deepwater Wind has proposed a 15-turbine wind farm, roughly 30 miles off the coast of Montauk. The company has a contract with the Long Island Power Authority to supply it with power from the wind farm beginning in 2022. It has already secured its lease for the sea floor from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), although it still needs to go through a permitting process with BOEM and the Public Service Commission before it can begin construction.

While both the town board and town trustees in East Hampton have said they will petition to be a part of that review process, in terms of approvals, Deepwater Wind as of now has sought easements from trustees to land its power cable off Beach Lane in Wainscott and one from the town board asking to run the cable under town-owned roads to a power substation off Cove Hollow Road in Wainscott. Deepwater Wind has offered more than $8 million in community benefits in return for the easements and the town board voted, 3-2, in July to hire counsel to draft an agreement with Deepwater Wind. The trustees have yet to take a formal vote on any potential agreement with the company.

If the firm does not secure easements from the town, it says it will land the cable on state-owned beach in Hither Hills near Montauk, in which case it would not need easements from either town body.

On Monday, Cate Rogers, an East Hampton resident and climate leader with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, urged trustees to consider the impact of climate change when weighing the decision to grant the easement.

“I do support the South Fork Wind Farm, but my goal tonight is to bring climate change to the forefront,” said Ms. Rogers.

“We need to take action on a large scale,” agreed Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. “I have solar panels on my home. I drive a Prius and those are all good things and many of us do that and they are very important steps, but by themselves will not help us solve the climate process.”

Mr. Raacke said the world has roughly a decade to change its course when it comes to fossil fuel consumption, and that large projects — like South Fork Wind Farm — are what will ultimately turn the tide.

The trustee’s attorney, Christopher Carillo, urged both residents to return with specific information on how the South Fork Wind Farm could address larger climate change issues rather than general information, which Ms. Rogers said she would do.

Resident Ann French questioned whether the project would meet the energy demands of East Hampton Town, particularly in the summer, and said that was one of several reasons she believed trustees should deny the request for the easement. “It doesn’t produce enough energy in the summer when we need it,” she said. “It’s just a fact — it’s an intermittent source; it’s a variable source.”

Ms. French said the project would require additional fossil fuel plants to meet peak demand, and said the cost — at over $2 billion — would be borne by rate payers for a project that would not meet the energy needs of the town. Instead, Ms. French said the town should tap into multiple forms of renewable energy — from solar to geothermal to tidal.

Joan McGivern said she believed Deepwater Wind’s proposal was “effectively a done deal,” having already been awarded a contract pursuant to a request for proposals, a contract approved by the state attorney general and comptroller.

She argued that Deepwater Wind would not go through an article seven process with the PSC without knowing where the landing site would be, and that the company would not likely move forward with that two-year review without some sort of agreement in place. Ms. McGivern questioned whether the town board or trustees would have standing to participate in that review if the transmission line lands at Hither Hills — a state beach. She urged the board to push forward with negotiations for a benefits package with Deepwater Wind.

If trustees do push forward with the negotiation of an easement agreement, Patrice Dalton asked them to make sure there are protections in place should plans change once construction begins. She cited a story about Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm – a completed five-turbine wind farm 3.8 miles from the island — where a power cable meant to lay four feet below the sea floor was completed with just a two-to-three-foot depth, and is now exposed.

“When you hit an unexpected thing like this, who approves the deviation from the approved plan?” asked Ms. Dalton.

“I don’t think the Town of East Hampton would appreciate having a situation like this repeated in our town if we can avoid it and, if we can, we should get language into our contact that considers situations like this,” she said.

As Ms. Dalton noted, the exposed cable in question is a National Grid-installed cable, a 20-mile sea2shore cable that connects Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island to Crescent Beach on Block Island. Deepwater Wind owns and installed the cable that connects the wind farm to Block Island, the company’s Vice President of Development Clint Plummer said on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Mr. Plummer said while Deepwater Wind’s cable did achieve a depth of four-feet, the National Grid cable did not, with the utility consulting with state and federal regulators to work to get the cable down to the original design depth. The utility began monthly surveys and, in the spring of 2017, completed supplemental armoring to ensure even if the cable was exposed, it could operate safely. In July 2018, as part of its monthly survey, National Grid discovered another portion of the cable had been exposed, as well as a portion of Deepwater Wind’s own cable.

“After a series of major storms, there were visible impacts to the entire coastline,” said Mr. Plummer. “Another storm moved through the area and pushed sand back in the direction of our cable. As of yesterday, none of our cable was exposed.”

Mr. Plummer said Deepwater Wind and National Grid were working with contractors, Block Island government leaders and regulators on both a short-term plan and a long-term plan to achieve deeper burial depth. Mr. Plummer added the cables were safely operating, regardless.

“There is no public safety risk here,” he said. “The wind farm and the cable to shore are operating safely. From the beginning, we have been proactive and working with town and state officials to come up with a long-term solution.”

Mr. Plummer added that the cable landing approach proposed for Long Island is different from the cable landing in Block Island where there was a very short drill designed to get under the beach dunes. In Wainscott, the design is for a horizontal directional drill over 1,000 feet offshore, achieving a depth of at least 30 feet.

In terms of securing the easement to land the cable in Wainscott, Mr. Plummer acknowledged Deepwater Wind has delayed its permit application “by many months so we can reach what we view as a very important agreement.”

“Time is getting tight and we are getting to a point where we will start to make a final decision on the direction we are going,” said Mr. Plummer.

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