East Hampton residents crystalized their hopes and fears about Deepwater Wind’s proposed offshore wind farm 36 miles off the coast of Montauk in a three-hour-long public hearing at LTV’s Wainscott studio May 17.
Their views highlighted a deepening divide within the community, with many saying the project is a necessary tool in combatting catastrophic climate change, while others worried that the price of the power from the project has not been disclosed, and many said that Rhode Island fishermen whose work was impacted by the company’s Block Island wind farm weren’t fully compensated for their losses, and were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements when they settled their case with the wind power company.
The joint hearing, before both the East Hampton Town Board and the East Hampton Town Trustees, was on whether the town should grant easements allowing Deepwater Wind to land the power cable from the wind farm at Beach Lane in Wainscott, laying the cable underground along a series of back roads to the Buell Lane LIPA substation in East Hampton Village.
The hearing was also on whether the town should accept an $8.45 million community benefit package offered by Deepwater Wind as compensation for the the easements, including $2 million to help offshore fisheries, $1 million to help inshore fisheries, and money for the community of Wainscott and townwide energy sustainability projects.
Marine science professor and author Carl Safina was among the first to speak, calling the project a “Deepwater Swindle,” adding that “debating which beach cable should land on is like the Carib Indians arguing which beach Columbus should row his dinghy to,” pointing out that this is just the first of many proposed wind farms in the ocean off the coast of Long Island.
The South Fork Wind Farm project, 15 turbines designed to generate 90 megawatts of power, enough to provide electricity for 50,000 homes, was awarded a power purchase agreement by LIPA in January of 2017.
While Deepwater Wind will not disclose the price at which LIPA agreed to by the power, they have said “the power price is the lowest-cost option in this RFP, and very competitive with renewables across Long Island,” which typically cost about 16 cents per kilowatt/hour. The company has also argued that LIPA will buy the power at the set price for the duration of the 20-year contract, even as the costs of power from fossil fuel increases.
Mr. Safina said that many of the other proposals in response to the LIPA bid were for decentralized projects, in which small amounts of power are produced at many locations close to where the power will be used, reducing transmission loss.
“We need decentralized energy, but power companies are existentially threatened by decentralized energy,” he said.
Mr. Safina, who has long written about the dangers facing marine life, also said he is concerned about the effect of EMF radiation on sharks and dolphins who venture near the wind farm and cable.
Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca said he believes it is important that East Hampton representatives remember that their review is not the only review the project will undergo — once the town easements are in place, the project must then go through extensive state and federal permitting processes that include environmental review and more public hearings. He added that, if the town does not grant the easements, Deepwater Wind could simply bring the cable ashore at a site owned by New York State, such as Hither Hills State Park in Napeague.
“The easiest thing to do politically here is punt and say ‘we’re done,’” he said. “But I believe they will then come in at a state facility, and the town will lose control over something I know everyone in the room cares about: trying to get the most environmentally benign project to happen.”
Mr. DeLuca added that he’s looked at data from 25 studies of EMF produced by underwater electric cables, and “can’t yet find anything that shows lasting negative impacts on the nearshore ecosystem from cables coming ashore.”
“There are real consequences to doing nothing other than what we have been doing with respect to the atmosphere and climate,” he added.
Fisherman David Aripotch said he has friends in Rhode Island who “were paid pennies on the dollar by these people,” referring to Deepwater Wind, when their fishing boats hung up on concrete mats connecting the cable from the Block Island Wind Farm to land.
“They lie. That’s what they do,” he said. “I’m not against renewable energy. But you’re not allowed to fish around them. What happens if squid don’t like electricity? That’s the biggest fishery here, and they probably don’t know. It’s no good. I don’t like it… Put them on land.”
Joan Morgan McGivern read a statement from Frank Dalene, a green builder and the former chairman of East Hampton’s Energy Sustainability Committee.
“The shrill of over-exaggerated innuendos, baseless allegations, misrepresented facts, unsubstantiated claims, fake news and fear-mongering about offshore wind is way over the top,” she read, adding that Europe has a mature offshore wind industry, with higher environmental standards than the United States. Mr. Dalene added in his letter that he has “repeatedly requested conclusive evidence and substantiated facts and received none” about proven detriments of offshore wind from opponents of the wind farm.
Mary Krogan read a statement from D. Walker Wainwright, an investment banker and East Hampton homeowner who has been involved in energy infrastructure projects.
“An infrastructure project supported by private equity is inherently conflicted,” she read, adding that the private equity firm D.E. Shaw, one of Deepwater Wind’s major investors, “makes investments in order to make money, not to benefit ratepayers…. Ratepayers may well be paying for power that is not wanted or needed, and ultimately East Hampton might be saddled with dormant and decaying wind turbines off the coast.”
Patricia Hope of the Northwest Woods came down against the turbines.
“It’s not a public utility. It’s a private corporation,” she said. “It has investors, investing millions so they will get a return on their investment. it’s all about money.”
“We’re desirable because we have water,” she said. “This is becoming an industry up and down the East Coast. People are in it for the money.”
She added that the project was designed to meet the peak power needs in East Hampton for “a couple days in August.”
“If we can’t do that with solar on municipal buildings, what are we doing?” she asked.
There was a brief moment of tension as Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island got up to speak, with Rick Drew of the East Hampton Trustees interjecting that he didn’t think Mr. Raacke should be allowed to speak because he was a “paid advocate” for PSEG, LIPA and Deewpater Wind.
“I agree. I don’t think it’s appropriate at all,” said Trustee Dell Cullum.
“That’s totally out of order, Rick,” countered East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “Are we supposed to suspend his civil rights? Let’s give everybody their opportunity to speak. You don’t have to agree with them, but respect them.”
Mr. Raacke laid out a series of calculations that he said showed the cost of the wind power would be $1.19 per month for an average customer whose electric bill is around $100.
“If fuel cost for conventional power generation rises over the next 20 years, your bills would go up. No one knows how much,” he said. “With wind power, we know what it is.”
“We’re all here because we’re passionate. We’re either passionate about climate change, passionate about about our community or passionate about certain industries,” said Melissa Parrott. “Climate change is happening. It’s the biggest issue humanity has ever faced.”
“If we keep polluting at this normal rate, the extreme temperatures we’re experiencing will become the norm over the next 50 years,” she added. “Ninety-three percent of the extra heat trapped by manmade global warming goes into our oceans, causing increasingly intense storms, loss of life and biodiversity, and also increasing droughts that many on Long Island are also affected by. And there are other risks: wildfires, invasive species like the southern pine beetle, sea level rise and costs associated with that, the possibility of losing our barrier islands. It goes on and on, if we don’t act and act now.”
“We need to bring this down in the next couple decades,” she said. “If we go past this point, we do not know the repercussions. We can change. We must change. We have solutions at hand.
Time is of the essence.”
“I am pro green energy. Most fishermen are,” said Daniel Farnham, a commercial fisherman from Montauk. “We are also those most impacted by climate change. We do not want to industrialize the oceans in order to save them and save the planet. Deepwater Wind, in all our negotiations, has failed to follow Bureau of Ocean Energy Management best practices.”
“This is an energy company,” he added. “I wouldn’t trust an energy or oil company on good faith when they say ‘trust me, we’ll take care of you later’.… We should not sign off without guarantees in writing that the fishing comm, fishing economy and local industry will be taken care of and made whole if there were to be damages down the road.”
“Put them at the dump in Montauk, at Camp Hero,” he said of windmills. “You’re asking myself and others in my industry to risk their lives because you don’t want to see blinking lights at night.”
Kevin McAllister of Defend H20, said he’s “highly conflicted” by the project.
“The notion of the industrialization of the ocean is highly unsettling to me,” he said, “but we have to move away from oil. I believe this is a necessary trend. Putting aside economics and need, I think the environmental impacts are manageable.”
The board held open the public hearing for written comment until May 31.
If East Hampton were to approve the easements, Deepwater Wind expects to submit its permit applications to state and federal regulatory agencies in June, with the expectation that they will receive permits and begin construction in mid-2020. The company is contracted with LIPA to have the windmills producing power by the end of 2022.
Correction: An early version of this story incorrectly attributed Patricia Hope’s comments to former East Hampton Town Supervisor Judith Hope. Judith Hope was not present at the hearing and she supports the offshore wind project. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.