Turbines Proposed for Local Waters
By David Crohn

A 40-turbine wind farm is being proposed for the region, on a small outcropping of rock 5.1 miles off shore from Robert Moses State Park.

The public commentary period, led by the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) for what is unfolding as a controversial move, ended August 21.

Along with solar power, wind is a leading alternative source of sustainable energy, but critics of this project have emerged. Suffolk County Legislator Wayne Horsely (D-Lindenhurst) says the $440 million price tag—borne in part by LIPA—is too much. Florida Power and Light (FPL), which has energy interests across the country, would own, operate and maintain the farm and sell the electricity generated by the farm to LIPA.

“I’m wondering if for close to half a billion dollars there are better uses for alternative fuels,” said Horsley. “If we put that kind of money into solar energy projects you might get a better bang for your buck. Frankly it’s going to cost so much. We should think twice about it.”

He also said alternative sites should be considered. “These are going to be running in front of Robert Moses. People in Fire Island should definitely be concerned.”

On a clear day, the wind turbines would be visible from Robert Moses State Park, although arranged to minimize the visual profile.

LIPA Spokesman Michael Lowndes said ratepayers would see no change to their service—or their bills. “Nothing would change whatsoever. People would have no idea what kind of power they’re getting. Power all goes into the same pot.” He said LIPA would pay for a required converter station proposed for Amityville.

According to Lowndes, the farm would generate about 140 megawatts, enough to power 44,000 homes when winds are strong enough. He admits that it is a relatively small amount, but said it’s a “very important first step toward lessening reliance on imported and fossil fuel.”

A draft Environmental Impact Statement is due from MMS over the winter. This will be followed by an additional, 90-day public input period.

Feedback already collected, at scoping meetings and online (ocsconnect.mms.gov/pcs-public) “will be taken into consideration as we draft the EIS plan,” said MMS spokesman Gary Strasburg. Comments run the gamut, from wholehearted endorsements to impassioned pleas against the project.

Said one poster on July 12, “DON’T DO IT! This project will cost somewhere in the vicinity of $500 million to $1.5 BILLION! How can that be justified by the result of a, at best, 1% increase to the power grid used by the people of Long Island now?”

But another online commentator is in favor of the wind farm. “I support the wind project as one piece of an overall effort to displace use of fossil fuels with renewable and clean energy. There is no good alternative, certainly not opening more of the Continental Shelf to oil drilling, as the Bush Administration is proposing. People who object to seeing windmills on the horizon would object far more to the sight of oil drilling platforms,” said a listing dated July 13.

Mike Reynolds, the Superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS), said the Seashore will be neutral about the project until the EIS is released.

“Although I am concerned about the impact on local bird populations. We want to make sure the EIS covers that,” Reynolds said. He said that although FINS is a cooperating agency on the EIS drafting process, MMS has had little contact with the park service.

Reynolds added, “The environmental community is very split on these projects. We all want to see green power and oil independence, but there is a flipside that should be considered.”

At the second of two scoping meetings held in Long Island in July, Patrick McGloin, the chairman of the Long Island Sierra Club, made similar remarks.

“Our conditional support is contingent on the outcome of this scoping session, and the details of the draft EIS,” said McGloin. “We believe it is vital for the MMS, as a guardian of the Outer Continental Shelf, to require Florida Power and Light to undertake a comprehensive sea based study of avian migration patterns both within the proposed siting area and a surrounding five-mile buffer zone.”

Permits from an array of state and federal agencies—including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration the Coast Guard—are required before FPL can break ground.

But Legislator Horsley expressed concern that local elected officials have little direct influence on the process.

“They [FPL and LIPA] don’t need a vote from the state or county legislature,” Horsley said. “That’s alarming in itself, that the locals don’t have a say. LIPA’s supposed to be our advocates and I’m hopeful that they’re listening.”

The farm could be online as early as fall, 2008, Lowndes said. LIPA’s obligation to pay would depend upon the park’s ability to produce energy as well as the delivery of that energy to the LIPA grid.


SIDEBAR: Wind Farm Factsheet

Number of turbines proposed for farm 5.1 miles from Robert Moses State Park: 40

Amount of power each turbine will produce: 3.6 megawatts

Number of homes farm can power: about 44,000

Height of each turbine tower: 260 feet

Length of each of three blades turbines have: 182 feet

Wind speed range at which turbines produce electricity: 8 to 36 miles per hour

Number of wind power facilities Florida Light and Power already operate in New York: 2