More than 100 advocates for offshore wind, comprised of environmental and labor groups and politicians, rallied outside of Long Island Power Authority headquarters in Uniondale Tuesday morning urging the agency to sign a contract to purchase power from offshore wind.
LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone, who sat with several model wind turbines on the table in front of him, told activists who packed LIPA’s board room for the agency’s monthly board of directors meeting after the rally that he expected to have a big announcement about offshore wind in the new year.
His comments were followed by an eruption of applause from the crowd.
The Rhode Island offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind turned on the switch last week on the first offshore wind project in the country off of Block Island, but the company’s proposed Deepwater ONE project in the waters 30 miles off of Montauk, which could to provide power to the East End, is still awaiting a bid award decision from LIPA.
Mr. Falcone told reporters this past summer that the Deepwater ONE project would be approved in July of this year, but the vote was postponed at the last minute because LIPA was awaiting the publication of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s blueprint for the state’s Offshore Wind Master Plan, which was completed in early fall.
In June, Mr. Falcone told the Associated Press that “this is the first in New York, it’s the largest to date, but we’re looking at this and seeing a tremendous offshore wind resource that will be developed and it’s not the last… I think this is a very big step … for New York, but also for the United States.”
Organizers of the rally ranged from the Sierra Club to Renewable Energy Long Island to the Long Island Federation of Labor, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, ironworkers, painters and other labor groups, 350.org and Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
They included a bus full of offshore wind advocates from Manhattan, who marched from the bus to beside the front door of LIPA headquarters, singing Bob Dylan’s “The Answer is Blowing in the Wind,” holding model wind turbines made of poster board high in the air.
They began a series of pro-wind chants, before deciding on the chant they liked the best, simply: “We Want Wind.”
In addition to the Deepwater Wind project, Norwegian multinational oil and gas company Statoil late last week was the provisional winner of the U.S. government’s wind lease sale of 79,350 acres of federal waters in the New York Bight off the South Shore.
Statoil submitted a winning bid of $42.5 million during the online auction conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Long Island Commercial Fishing Association Executive Director Bonnie Brady of Montauk was the one person in attendance at the LIPA meeting Tuesday who expressed skepticism about offshore wind, where the board took about half an hour of public comment.
Ms. Brady said the construction of the wind farm would involve pile driving the ocean floor, killing fish with swim bladders, while low-level electromagnetic frequencies at the site, which currently is part of an active cod fishery, would attract sharks.
She described the project as a “nuclear winter” for fish.
“The reality is, this is not a clean project,” she said, adding that there is a glut of power on Long Island, but the LIPA grid is broken.
“Truly green projects don’t destroy the environment to save the environment,” she said. “If we fix the grid, we’ll have enough power on the East End until 2030.”
Ms. Brady urged the board to encourage more solar projects, instead of wind.
East Hampton Town Energy Sustainability Committee member Linda James read a letter in support of the project from East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
“This is an important step toward securing East Hampton’s future,” she read. “Climate change is a priority for East Hampton. We’re working hard to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Coastal communities like ours are on the front lines.”
East Hampton set a goal in 2014 of producing all of town government’s power through renewable sources by 2020 and of producing all of the town’s energy through renewable sources by 2030. The plan relies heavily on offshore wind to meet those goals.
Renewable Energy Long Island Executive Director Gordian Raacke pointed out that the LIPA headquarters is in the middle of a complex at Roosevelt Field that had once been the proving grounds for the early days of the aviation industry, with streets named for Charles Lindbergh and Earl Ovington.
Mr. Raacke pointed out that Lindbergh’s first trans-Atlantic flight, which took off from Roosevelt Field, “made history and started an industry,” and urged LIPA to do the same with offshore wind.
While the LIPA board had no vote scheduled Tuesday on the request for proposals to provide power that Deepwater Wind has bid on, Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito said she was heartened to hear that LIPA has scheduled a special meeting the last week in January.
“We are excessively hopeful that it will be on the agenda at that meeting,” she said.
Ms. Esposito, who described the rally as “the largest rally for offshore wind in the history of New York State,” said the proposal is a unifying issue, providing skilled work for Long Island tradespeople and hope for the future of the planet.
She also said the project has bipartisan support. Two South Shore state senators, Republican Phil Boyle and Democrat Tom Kaminsky, both supported the project at the rally and in comments at the LIPA board meeting.
Mr. Kaminsky said that, if the new administration in Washington refuses to support clean energy, “New York has to stand up and take the lead.”
Long Island Federation of Labor Executive Director Roger Clayman said that members of the labor movement “are fully engaged and understand the significance of the clean energy movement.”
He added that Long Island workers, many of whom suffered the damage of Superstorm Sandy, “are on the front lines of climate change.”
Nassau-Suffolk Building and Construction Trades President Richard O’Kane said “to live on Long Island, we need jobs, and we have a memorandum of understanding with Deepwater Wind to do these jobs.”
“Fifty-eight thousand people in Europe are doing these jobs,” he added. “We can do this bigger and better here.”
Lisa Dix of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign said the Sierra Club is pushing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to formalize “a commitment to an offshore wind program at scale” in his State of the State address in 2017.
Catherine Bowes of the National Wildlife Federation, said her agency understands that “climate change is the greatest threat to wildlife.”
“There’s no greater place to build than off of New York,” she said. “We’ve got world-class wind.”