By Stephen J. Kotz
Clint Plummer, the vice president for development of Deepwater Wind, which plans to build a 90-megawatt wind farm off the coast of Montauk in the coming years, told audience members at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Monday that the project makes sense for both economic and environmental reasons.
He was joined in the discussion at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton by Michael Voltz, the director of energy efficiency and renewables at PSEG–Long Island. Mr. Voltz cited a growing South Fork power deficit and the mandate of Governor Andrew Cuomo to embrace renewable energy as factors that led the Long Island Power Authority to sign a deal with Deepwater earlier this year for the $700 million project.
Deepwater, which signed a lease with the federal government for ocean bottom southeast of Block Island and about 30 miles off the coast of Montauk, plans to erect between 12 and 15 turbines at the site. If all goes according to plan, it will be operational by 2023.
The discussion was moderated by Susan Wilson, the chairwoman of the league’s natural resources committee.
“Since early history, people have harnessed this powerful energy for their own use. Between 1600 and 1800 American colonists used windmills to grind wheat and corn, to pump water and cut wood in sawmills,” she said in her introduction. “Fast forward to the 21st century. Wind power is one of the fastest growing sources of new electricity supply and the largest source of new, renewable power generation in the United States.”
Mr. Voltz told the audience that by this summer, the East End is expected to be running at an 8-megawatt electricity deficit. That means on an unusually hot summer day, it is possible there will be brownouts as the electrical grid struggles to keep up with demand. By 2030, he said, the deficit is expected to grow to 169 megawatts.
The East End is being targeted for new energy production in part because demand here is growing steadily, by about 3 or 4 percent a year, he said. Mr. Voltz referred to an article in this weekend’s New York Times which examined the practice here of tearing down large house to replace them with even larger ones.
“The growth in electricity demand when you have such large homes tends to be air conditioning, swimming pools, hot tubs, lighting and all the other appliances,” he said.
Even if the South Fork Wind Farm goes on line as scheduled, in 2023, the East End’s growing energy appetite means additional sources of energy will have to be provided in the years to come, he said.
Mr. Plummer said there were several factors that made wind energy a viable option. The east coast has the country’s densest population and oldest electric grid, but there is a relatively shallow shelf running the length of that coast, which makes it economically feasible to erect wind turbines. Finally, he cited “weather nerds” who refer to the region as “the Saudi Arabia of wind” because the winds are strong and steady. “We have the ability to build thousands of megawatts offshore,” he said.
While the United States is just getting started in harvesting wind power, Europe has been investing heavily in the technology for nearly 20 years, he told the audience, and today there are more than 3,000 turbines off the European coast.
Mr. Plummer said Deepwater was committed to working with groups that may have concerns about the project and cited the company’s Block Island Wind Farm, the first American offshore wind farm, which went into operation last year. The company timed construction to minimize impacts on the North Atlantic right whale, worked with Native Americans to make sure there were no ancient settlements on what was once dry land, and worked with commercial fishermen to assuage their concerns about potential disruptions to their fishing grounds.
Deepwater’s current plans have come under heavy fire from a number of Montauk fishermen who fear the construction will harm habitat and kill fish and that the turbines and the cable carrying the electricity to the main land will pose obstacles to future fishing.