A Wind Farm U-Turn

By Peter Gollon

As someone concerned about mitigating the potential ravages of climate change, I admire Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s past leadership in replacing fossil fuels with energy from the sun and wind. In 2017, he supported the Deepwater Wind South Fork Wind Farm, to be located 35 miles east of Montauk, as an economic source of renewable energy necessary to meet growing electric demand on the South Fork. This project is the first step to taking advantage of New York’s plentiful offshore wind energy and furthers Governor Cuomo’s ambitious plan to move the state’s electrical system off fossil fuels by 2040.

Yet I am now puzzled by Assemblyman Thiele’s withdrawal of his support for the South Fork Wind Farm project. He cites two recent changes behind his decision. The first is the purchase of Deepwater Wind from its initial hedge fund owner by Orsted, a Danish company and the world’s largest developer and owner of offshore wind farms. Orsted will retain Deepwater’s Long Island team while bringing technical knowledge and expertise that does not yet exist in North America. 

Why is this a problem for Assemblyman Thiele? Exchanging a hedge fund owner for the world’s most experienced offshore wind company is actually a gain.

Mr. Thiele should check on Orsted’s reputation and commitment to sustainability with his counterparts in Europe before he reflexively condemns them as not being “a good steward of the natural resources we have worked for decades to protect.”

The second change he cites is upgrading the 15 turbines in the South Fork project to newer and larger turbine technology — with a limit to the project size of 130 megawatts. The newer turbines will produce 44 percent more energy in the same project footprint and at a lower cost than the originally planned ones. 

How is this a problem? We all know that when you buy the “economy-size” package, the cost per unit goes down. It’s the same thing here. This is another positive development.

Finally, Assemblyman Thiele is upset that the Long Island Power Authority has redacted certain terms of the South Fork contract from the version released to the public and available on LIPA’s website. His concern is that Long Island customers don’t know what the project costs because of these redactions. But LIPA has disclosed both the total cost of the contract and the impact to monthly electric bills, which is estimated at $1.39 to $1.57 per month for a typical Long Island residential customer. 

And the salient point is that energy from this project, when combined with local battery energy storage, greater efficiency of use by customers, and reduction of peak demand, will be the least expensive way to meet the growing energy needs of the South Fork.

The contract was approved by LIPA’s independent board, and the entire process — including competing proposals — was audited and preapproved by both the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the State Comptroller to ensure that the process was fair, competitive, and in the best interests of Long Island’s customers. Does Mr. Thiele think he could do a better job of finding flaws in the contract than people whose professional careers are spent doing this work?

Why redact certain terms from the publicly available contract? LIPA’s position is that making this sensitive information public and thus available to other offshore wind developers would reduce the competitive nature of the next offshore wind auction, to the detriment of Long Island’s residents.

In summary, none of the stated reasons for his U-turn make any sense. Assemblyman Thiele has rejected meetings with LIPA and Orsted representatives to discuss the South Fork project. He should take these meetings to inform himself about the changes to the project since he first expressed his approval in 2017.

Playing politics with an impending climate crisis is not the visionary leadership Assemblyman Thiele has previously shown. I urge all readers concerned about clean energy and climate change to contact him and ask him to reclaim his mantle as a sustainable-energy leader by renewing his support for New York’s first offshore wind farm. 

He’s taken a wrong turn. The faster he comes about, the faster the turbines of the South Fork Wind Farm will produce clean, reliable power for all Long Island.

Peter Gollon was appointed a LIPA trustee in 2016. A former energy chairman of the Long Island Sierra Club, he lives in Huntington.