Offshore wind may be a big part of the future for the East End’s energy grid, after Governor Andrew Cuomo committed the state to acquiring the power from 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 in his State of the State Address in January.
With much of the state landlocked except for Long Island, our region is likely to be a proving ground for the nascent offshore wind industry.
The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons organized a forum April 17 to discuss the future of offshore wind with representatives from PSEG-Long Island and Rhode Island-based wind developer Deepwater Wind at Southampton’s Rogers Memorial Library.
Deepwater Wind was awarded a LIPA contract in January to build a 90 megawatt wind farm 30 miles off of Montauk, to be tied in to the South Fork’s energy grid.
LWV Natural Resources Committee chair Susan Wilson reminded the packed room of attendees that the South Fork has a long history of harnessing wind energy, evidenced by the many historic windmills, originally used to grind grain, that dot the landscape here.
PSEG-Long Island Director of Energy Efficiency & Renewables Michael Voltz said the South Fork now faces a unique situation in terms of its peak demand for power, as a seasonal community far from where energy is generated that faces a much higher peak load on summer afternoons than its average load throughout the year, due mostly to air conditioners and pool pumps running in seasonal homes.
Mr. Voltz said, after receiving numerous requests for proposals last year to solve this problem, PSEG-Long Island has agreed to a three-phase solution, starting with an efficiency and load-reduction program to reduce the South Fork’s load by 8.2 megawatts.
The second phase involves battery backup storage in Montauk and East Hampton, which would use powerful new lithium-ion batteries to store up to a total of 10.2 megawatts of electricity to help meet peak demand.
The wind farm, which Deepwater Wind hopes to have online by 2022, would provide the remaining necessary peak power. Until the wind farm is built, Mr. Voltz said PSEG will use temporary emergency generators as backup to meet peak demand, which he estimated would be about 29 megawatts more than its current demand of 270 megawatts by 2019.
“We’ll have emergency generators in case summers are hotter than normal,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we have a backup generation source.”
“We felt this was the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible portfolio,” he said.
Mr. Voltz said PSEG-Long Island also plans to make enhancements to its aging South Fork transmission system between 2019 and 2026, most of which will be done “underground or in transmission substations.”
Deepwater Wind Vice President of Development Clint Plummer said the site off Montauk is “one of the strongest wind resources in the world,” described by meteorologists as “the Saudi Arabia of wind.”
He added that he believes his company has “the ability to cost effectively build a wind farm with a much higher level of public support and approval than building a new fossil fuel powered peaking plant in downtown East Hampton.”
He said the company plans to continue to hold public outreach sessions, and that the project will be more successful when people show up to ask questions.
And the audience did just that.
Many wondered about how the cable from the wind farm would be buried along the sea floor, and whether it would be big enough to transmit more electricity if Deepwater Wind expands its wind farm after building the initial 15 wind turbines the company is building now under the new Long Island contract.
There is room on their lease site to build up to 200 wind turbines.
Mr. Plummer said, in the company’s first wind farm off Block Island, they used a jet plow to temporarily liquify the sea floor, where the cable was buried six feet under the sediment.
“It’s important to us and other users of the ocean that the cable is well protected from anchor drags and other things, and that we can ensure we can get to the target burial depth,” he said.
Mr. Voltz said the cable for this project is designed specifically to meet the needs of the South Fork.
“We have the ability from [the wind farm] site to serve additional load, if we see a need for additional sources of clean energy on the East End,” he said, adding that the initial 90 megawatts, which would feed in to the East Hampton transmission substation, would probably not travel farther west than Riverhead on a low load day.
But, he added “The grid at the East End of Long Island is very weak. Our ability to deliver power to the East Hampton substation is constrained. Ninety megawatts is about the amount of capacity that can be injected at that point on the grid, but that’s where they need the capacity in the near term. In the long term, we will have the ability to deliver power at different points in the grid.”
Other audience members asked how the plans would affect their electric bills. Mr. Voltz said that’s not an easy question to answer, since the wind farm isn’t due to come online until 2022 and the comparable price of fossil fuels are too volatile to predict.
Mr. Voltz said the wind power would be paid for through the power supply portion of electric bills, not the delivery portion.
“The change could be zero percent,” he said. “If oil and gas prices were to go up, it could be less expensive than to purchase gas-fired energy. If we didn’t put it in, we would be buying other energy for our supply.”
The RFP approved by the LIPA Board in January is a 20-year pay-for-performance Power Purchase Agreement, allowing the utility to pay for delivered energy without paying for the costs of construction, which are being borne by Deepwater Wind’s investors.
Deepwater Wind spokeswoman Meaghan Wims said in January that “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.
Mr. Plummer pointed out that Block Island, which had been burning a million gallons of diesel fuel per year to create electricity at a cost of 60 cents per kilowatt hour, has seen a 40 percent reduction in the cost of power since the project there went online in late 2016.
That project also supplies power to the mainland in Rhode Island.
“We were able to completely eliminate the need for diesel-fired generators on Block Island,” he said.
Other members of the audience wondered if changes in the federal government’s policy toward renewable energy would affect the project.
“Energy policy is dictated by the state,” said Mr. Plummer. “At the federal level, we don’t need anything special. We deal with the same federal agency that processes oil and gas in the ocean. We don’t see any issues with that.”
Others asked if the construction of the project took climate change into account.
“We were required to have foundations that withstand a thousand-year storm. That storm involves a 60-foot rogue wave,” said Mr. Plummer. “I’m not sure what else will be left standing with a rogue wave that close to shore, but by god we’ll have wind turbines out there.”