Editorial: Tell Us What the Power Will Cost

From the first whisperings we heard that offshore wind could be a real player on the energy landscape of the East End, we were excited. The winds off our shores are world-class, and it seems only natural that wind be used in an area that has some of the highest electric energy rates in the country. 

The need for fossil fuel-free solutions to protect the earth from climate change is dire, and the recent disturbing news about the rapid pace we expect climate change to take in the coming decades is something none of us can afford to ignore. We need to ramp up our efforts to fight climate change, and an arsenal of bold projects is essential to this effort.

We were impressed at the start by the outreach from Deepwater Wind to explain their plans for the South Fork Wind Farm, slated to be built 30 miles off the Montauk shore. But the devil is in the details, and the details available for this project have become troubling.

Along the line, Deepwater Wind’s communication has become less direct, their assurances to work with the fishing community have begun to sound more like greenwashing than collaboration, and the company’s purchase last year by Danish energy giant Ørsted has dramatically changed what had been a homegrown energy story. And despite their assurances that we’ve been kept fully in the loop, their bumbled rollout of the news that the South Fork Wind Farm will likely produce more energy than originally proposed leads us to wonder just how this relates to the wind company’s power purchase agreement with the Long Island Power Authority, signed long before the public was aware of this change in scope of the project.

We’ve been puzzled for the past two years at the secrecy surrounding the power purchase agreement. Deepwater has long attempted to assure the public that their company will bear the brunt of any cost overruns, since LIPA has agreed to purchase the power at a set rate, but this doesn’t answer the fundamental question of what that set rate will be.

Long Island’s energy ratepayers will be paying for this power. It seems a simple question to ask what the amount they will be paying will be. 

Deepwater Wind’s demonstration project, which has been powering Block Island since late 2016, has proved a microcosm of both the potential successes and pitfalls of offshore wind. While surveys have shown the public’s view of the turbines has become more positive in the years since they were built, issues such as the recent exposure of the cable that brings the power to the island, due to shifting sands, are troubling.

The power purchase agreement for the Block Island project has been public from the start. On Block Island, Deepwater Wind is selling the power to National Grid, Rhode Island’s electric utility, through another 20-year Power Purchase Agreement. In the initial year of operation, ratepayers paid 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour for the electricity purchased there, with a 3.5 cent increase each year.

Block Island has historically had very high electric costs due to the necessity of trucking diesel fuel to the island to run its power plant. So even though that agreement is public, it isn’t an apples to apples comparison to what Long Island can expect.

We’ve been given assurances here that the price is “very competitive with renewables across Long Island,” which stood at about 16 cents per kilowatt hour when the contract was approved in January 2017. We’ve also been assured that, because the cost to buy Deepwater Wind’s power will be set for 20 years, we should take heart that this is an invariable amount. But without knowing what this amount is, these assurances continue to ring hollow. 

Overall, electric customers on Long Island are currently paying 10.3085 cents per kilowatt/hour of energy they consume, which includes both renewable and non-renewable sources. These rates are already high.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, long a critic of lack of transparency at LIPA, is right to be concerned by the lack of daylight in this agreement, and we applaud his attempt to make the power purchase agreement public.

If Ørsted plans to be a good neighbor to the East End, the company could engender much goodwill by honoring the public’s request. This has been a no-brainer for two years, and we question the judgement and the honesty of a company that cannot provide us with this basic fact.

Offshore wind will likely be a vital part of our energy future. Innovative solutions to the climate crisis, such as a carbon tax, require that we have large scale, viable alternatives to fossil fuel. Long Island can’t get there with solar roofs alone. We need wind, and it has to be done right. Time is of the essence, and we are out of time for playing games over how we are going to pay for it.

East End Beacon

The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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