Deepwater Dilemma

Questions about how Deepwater Wind’s 15-turbine project some 30 miles out in the Atlantic could affect East Hampton’s electric rates have emerged as criticism of the plan. At a joint East Hampton Town Board and town trustees hearing this evening at LTV Studios in Wainscott that issue is likely to be one of many. 

Deepwater has done itself no favors in keeping key terms of its contract with the Long Island Power Authority secret, notably how much LIPA will pay for the power generated offshore. This has allowed suspicions to grow that the cost to ratepayers will be exorbitant. However, even if Deepwater’s electricity is pricier, it would provide only a small fraction of the sources that travel over the Long Island grid. PSEG-Long Island supplies about 1.1 million customers; running at full tilt, Deepwater’s output is expected to be enough for about 50,000 households, and therefore have a negligible impact on electric rates.

Critics of the deal are right that the absence of price details makes it appear that Deepwater and LIPA are trying to avoid criticism and sneak something past the public. They are also right to question why LIPA and New York residents are being treated differently than the customers of other states, where Deepwater disclosed its contracted rates for electricity in the process of pitching its projects. Moreover, the mystery has made it difficult for those interested in sustainable energy to make the case for this project. 

It may be heresy to beleaguered taxpayers point out that there could be a positive environmental effect to higher prices for electricity. When gas prices rise, consumers in the United States have driven fewer miles and selected vehicles with greater fuel efficiency. Conversely, when the price at the pump drops, sales of gas-guzzlers increase. Higher electric bills could help move more people toward power-saving appliances, lighting, and habits. This is important. In fact, the power authority has made demand reduction a key part of its long-term strategy.

Several key points remain in favor of town officials’ cooperation with Deepwater and LIPA. These include the fact that the company could bring the cable ashore on state land, without town involvement. East Hampton’s goal is to have 100 percent renewable energy as soon as practical; Deepwater could help it meet that target. And, most important, the Earth is warming at a potentially catastrophic rate thanks to human activity. Fossil fuel-fired electric plants are a major source of the greenhouse gases responsible. Here in the Northeast, solar arrays can help but wind remains the most viable source of nonpolluting power.

If the issue is money, the cost of dealing with climate change, which will far outpace that of alternative electricity sources, is the most important calculation of all. While considering the potential impacts of the cable landing site is in the public interest, any further stalling by town officials is a mistake.