Fred Thiele Raises Concerns About South Fork Wind Farm

Patrick O'Connor and Fred Thiele
Fred Thiele

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. has long supported renewable energy, and early on was supportive of a wind farm slated to be built about 30 miles off the coast of Montauk.

But that changed Jan. 24, when Mr. Thiele delivered a detailed statement to East Hampton Town and to the media expressing concern about an increase in the proposed megawattage of the project, about the purchase of original developer Deepwater Wind by the Danish energy firm Ørsted, and by the secrecy concerning the power purchase agreement agreed to by Deepwater Wind and the Long Island Power Authority.

“In May, I stated that my support of off-shore wind power should not be construed as a rubber stamp for every off-shore wind project that is proposed,” wrote Mr. Thiele. “We must look at the merits of each project to ensure it meets the goals of our energy policy and that the project avoids unacceptable adverse environmental impacts to our community. The public is right to demand the strictest review of this project. State and federal review should move forward cautiously so that all of these issues can be addressed.”

“Since my statement in May, two important changes have occurred,” he added. “First, I have read that Deepwater Wind has been bought by Danish energy giant Ørsted. Second, shortly after acquisition by Ørsted, I have read that the project would utilize larger turbines and that the size of the project would increase from 90 megawatts to 130 megawatts, or a 44 percent increase. This is the classic “bait and switch”.

“What we were originally told about the project and its goals are no longer true,” he added. “A project originally proposed by an American company to address the growing energy needs of eastern Long Island, now is to be part of the portfolio of an international energy giant, whose first decision was a 44 percent increase in the size of the project. We are left to imagine what other changes might be made or what other projects might show up on our doorstep in the future.

“Because of the ‘bait and switch tactics of Deepwater/Ørsted, I cannot trust them with my community’s future,” he added. “Local government should also consider these unethical tactics before it makes any more decisions about this project.”

Ørsted responded on Jan. 25 with the following statement:

“Thanks to technology advancements, we can now provide even more clean energy to the South Fork, at an even lower price. We’ve talked publicly about what our new ownership, and our expanded project, mean for Long Island. We’ve requested multiple times over the course of the last four months to meet with Assemblyman Thiele to brief him on the facts – that offer still stands. Frankly, we’re confused why Assemblyman Thiele was such a strong and vocal supporter of the 90-megawatt project, but now opposes the project when it’s capable of producing even more clean energy for his constituents at a lower price.”

Deepwater Wind was the winning bidder in January of 2017 on a contract to provide power to the South Fork through a 20-year pay-for-performance Power Purchase Agreement. Deepwater representatives said at the time that “the power price is the lowest-cost option in this RFP (request for proposals), and very competitive with renewables across Long Island,” which typically cost about 16 cents per kilowatt/hour.

Mr. Thiele, however, said that he continues “to be concerned by LIPA’s ill-considered policy of denying public access to the Deepwater agreement under the guise of confidentiality. There is no legitimate basis for this policy. The procurement process is over. The public has every right to review this agreement, just as it has every right to review real estate appraisals under the CPF program once an agreement has been reached. The change in ownership and the 44 percent increase make it even more imperative that the agreement be made public now.”

Mr. Thiele added that, if the agreement is not made public, he will introduce legislation this spring “making it clear that these kinds of agreements are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.”

“LIPA can either make the agreement public now or be compelled to make it public when my bill is enacted into law,” he added.

“We are as committed as ever to building an offshore wind farm that the South Fork can be proud of,” Ørsted responded. “The South Fork Wind Farm is the most affordable solution for the South Fork’s energy needs, and that’s a major reason why the community has overwhelmingly supported the project for years. We stand ready to make historic investments in East Hampton, including support of the commercial fishing community.”

Mr. Thiele added that he stands with the commercial fishing industry, which has raised numerous concerns about the wind farm, saying he is working to protect the fishing industry on numerous fronts, including challenging federal fishing quotas and changing state fishing license requirements. He said that “the potential impacts to the fishing industry from offshore wind must be identified, addressed, and avoided.”

Ørsted announced Jan. 17 that it has partnered with the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance to improve communications between the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind energy developers.

They’re asking fishermen who would like to join RODA to contact info@rodafisheries.org for more information.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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