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As Wind Farm Proceeds, So Does Pushback

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 15:03

Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind and Eversource Energy, which are developing the proposed South Fork Wind farm, filed a joint proposal with the New York State Public Service Commission last Thursday in support of an application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need under Article VII of the Public Service Law. 

The joint proposal, an Orsted spokeswoman said, is the outcome of settlement negotiations before the Public Service Commission, which is charged with determining whether the project is in the public interest, that began late last year. Under that process, interested parties can intervene in the proceedings, with all parties finding agreement where they can and reducing the number of issues subject to litigation. 

The commission is examining the portion of the 130-megawatt project that would be constructed in the state. The proposed 15-turbine installation, to be situated some 35 miles off Montauk Point, would include approximately 3.5 miles of its 138-kilovolt export cable buried in state waters and approximately 4.1 miles buried underground from the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott, where the developers hope to land it, to the Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton. 

The joint proposal is a list of conditions on which parties have reached consensus, said Meaghan Wims, the spokeswoman. It "consists of a long list of conditions that specify the design, notice, construction, and operational requirements the project must adhere to." Some reaffirm existing commitments made by the developers, while others are "additional or more stringent requirements that have been negotiated by the parties."

The joint proposal "demonstrates support for the preferred transmission cable route from Wainscott Beach and specifies the design parameters and construction techniques, as well as mitigation and monitoring measures, that will be required during construction and operation of the project," Ms. Wims said. When complete, South Fork Wind "will provide enough clean energy to power more than 70,000 homes -- reducing carbon emissions and helping the state meet its commitment to clean energy and offshore wind. We are grateful to those who have participated in the process to this point, and we'll continue to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to deliver critical benefits for the people of New York."

Partners listed in the joint proposal include PSEG Long Island, which manages the electricity grid for the Long Island Power Authority; Win With Wind, a group formed to advocate for the project; Montauk United, an advocacy group that opposes a cable landing at state-owned land near Hither Hills on Napeague, which has been identified as an alternative site; Concerned Citizens of Montauk; the Group for the East End, and three residents. 

With the joint proposal filed, said Ken Bowes, Eversource Energy's vice president for transmission performance, an administrative law judge will now determine a schedule for interested parties to file testimony, which he predicted will happen in the next two to three weeks. The applicant will have an opportunity to file rebuttal testimony, challenging assertions made and adding supplemental information. Evidentiary hearings will follow, most likely in December, he said. The Public Service Commission would then evaluate testimony and make a decision, possibly in the first quarter of 2021. 

The move follows the East Hampton Town Board's Sept. 8 unveiling of a host community agreement that would see the town and the town trustees share a package totaling almost $29 million over the wind farm's 25-year life span. 

While the project moves forward on the local and state levels, furious opposition continues. Many residents of Wainscott are outraged by the developers' plan to land the cable at Beach Lane and the town board and trustees' agreement that it is the most logical site (the developers plan to conduct all land-based construction in one off-season, pledging that the work will not start before Oct. 1 and will conclude before May). The selection of Wainscott as a landing site led to the formation of a group called Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott and has encouraged a petition drive toward the hamlet's incorporation. 

Commercial fishermen are almost universally opposed to the wind farm, fearing an impact on their livelihood, and others complain that the developers and LIPA have been opaque with respect to the rates customers would pay for electricity as a consequence of the wind farm. 

Some opponents have charged that the project would result in "grossly excessive costs," as David Gruber, a 2019 candidate for East Hampton Town supervisor, put it to the town board during its Sept. 15 meeting, and that the intermittent nature of wind means that the supply will be weakest when demand peaks, in the summer, and strongest when demand lessens, in the winter. 

Another argument refers to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's determination that projects of less than 400 megawatts are uneconomical and should not be considered for procurement. Orsted-Eversource's proposed Sunrise Wind project, for example, is an 880-megawatt installation planned to make landfall in Brookhaven. Why couldn't East Hampton residents procure electricity from that resource, critics have asked. 

Renewable energy, Mr. Bowes answered, "takes many forms and many sizes of projects. If that were to be extrapolated, we would not have rooftop solar; large industrial-size solar farms are more cost-effective. You need a mix of a variety of types of renewable energy. Bigger is not always better. It may be more cost-effective, but it also may not be situated where needed."

South Fork Wind, he said, "is a reliability project based on LIPA's need to address summer peak loads on the South Fork. Putting a larger project in New York City, while it might be more cost-effective, does not satisfy local need." 

As for pricing, Mr. Bowes said that South Fork Wind's initial per-kilowatt-hour cost of 16 cents was determined based on its initial 90-megawatt proposal. The subsequent additional 40 megawatts proposed, owing to advancing technology, would carry a per-kilowatt-hour cost of 8 cents, he said, less than the 10-to-12-cent cost per kilowatt hour of Sunrise Wind and Empire Wind, the latter another developer's project, both of which were awarded contracts to provide electricity to New York State last year. 

"LIPA has been very strong, consistently, on the benefit of this project," Jennifer Garvey, Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind's New York market affairs manager, said of South Fork Wind. It chose South Fork Wind from respondents to its 2015 request for proposals "because it was the most cost-effective portfolio available, and here we are."

Another objection raised with the commission concerns Ocean Wind, another Orsted project that will deliver energy to New Jersey. This month, that state's Senate president and two members of the Assembly wrote to the president of the state's Board of Public Utilities urging the suspension of the project's approval and "an investigation into potential misrepresentations that Orsted made in its application" to the board. 

"We are surprised by what we read and do not agree with what the letter is suggesting," Ms. Wims said. "We are still in the early stages of developing the state's first commercial-scale offshore wind farm. . . . We are disappointed by this unexpected turn of events, but remain focused on the jobs, economic development, and environmental benefits of offshore wind in New Jersey. We are committed to delivering on all of our commitments in our bid to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities."

Michael McDonald, a Springs resident who is coordinator of the East End Resilience Network and executive director of the Health Initiatives Foundation, described himself as a former proponent of South Fork Wind who is now opposed to it. He, too, brought up the cost to LIPA ratepayers and the New Jersey officials' request that the Ocean Wind project be investigated, and criticized the town board for indicating its acceptance of the host community agreement in light of what he said was insufficient environmental, economic, and legal review. 

"We're wasting time listening to cheerleaders for something that doesn't make sense," he said last week. "They're blocking valid discussions of alternatives." 

The board, Mr. McDonald said, "is either going to rubber-stamp something that is ill-informed and ill-advised, or this is going to be a turning point." 


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