It’s been so many years since wind power off the Long Island coast was first discussed that it almost seems as if it’s a concept out of the science fiction books. It might happen, some day, but a lot of us have a hard time envisioning it will happen in our lifetime.
But the folks who run Deepwater Wind, the Rhode Island company that is working on two major wind projects off the far eastern region of our shores, are used to taking the long view.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski sat down with The Beacon to discuss the projects a few weeks ago.
Deepwater Wind is breaking ground on a demonstration project to power Block Island, and last summer won a 30-year lease to 256 square miles of prime federal lands about 30 miles off the coast of Montauk, where they plan to initially build about 35 6-megawatt turbines, which could provide power to the East End if LIPA and PSEG Long Island approve their request to tie in to Long Island’s electric grid.
There is space at the site to install up to 200 turbines.
It’s been a long process to get to this point, said Mr. Grybowski, and he expects it will be a long process still before the project is realized. But he said the thorough vetting process his company is going through will help make the project a good one.
Large wind farms have no shortage of opponents, and some of them are odd bedfellows. Naturalists who are concerned about migratory bird flyways find common ground with commercial fishermen who don’t want to see the turbines built, while many projects built in the early days of the industry have given the entire field of wind energy a black eye.
Some of the earliest projects were built near shore in Northern Europe in the early 1990s, but European turbines are now found as far out as 25 to 35 miles offshore. This isn’t just because politicians don’t want to see the turbines, said Mr. Grybowski. It’s also where you’ll find the best wind.
“There are some real advantages to this range,” he said of offshore wind. “The wind, generally speaking, gets much better. Ideally, wind doesn’t go over any land features, which slow it down.”
The site where Deepwater Wind’s lease lies off of Montauk, he said, is “probably one of the best offshore wind sites in North America.”
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management oversees the placement of offshore wind farms, and, as part of their process, they map out the fishing grounds of different fisheries, shipping lanes, and a host of other factors that make a site suitable for wind production.
“The ocean is really quite busy,” he said. “This has been through the first steps of the selection process, with feedback from fishermen, tribes, birders and environmental advocacy groups.”
He said BOEM has already carved out a section just to the south of the wind turbine site, a ridge in the ocean where fish congregate known as Cox Ledge, which will remain an important fishing ground.
Now, he said, Deepwater Wind will need to do its own environmental assessment, which will include “multiple rounds of public comment over the next couple years.”
They’ve already come to an agreement with the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation to protect endangered right whales, who migrate through the area of the proposed wind farm, by timing the construction of the turbines to avoid the springtime, when the whales make their way through the site of the turbines.
They’ll also be building off of the nearly four years of data they’ve collected on bird behavior on Block Island, tracking numerous species that frequent the island, including a special monitor to look for bats, which Mr. Grybowski said are the number one species of concern for wind farm developers.
Mr. Grybowski said the monitor found one bat near the wind farm site over the course of three years.
“That was clearly one very dazed and confused bat,” he said. “Bats are a big issue in certain areas. A bunch of wind farms were sited with no regard to bats. Bats don’t live offshore.”
He added that much of the opposition to wind farms came out of some bad siting decisions when the industry was in its infancy, most famously with a project in the Altamont Passs in California.
“It was great for wind, but everything that flew liked that pass too,” he said.
He said he expects the company’s studies to find few migratory birds as far out in the ocean as the Deepwater One site.
“It’s not surprising to ornithologists that there are not that many birds this far offshore,” he said. “Most tend to be closer to the coastline. For passerine migration, their route is essentially southwest to northeast along the shore. There’s no place for them to land out here.”
“There are now thousands and thousands of turbines spinning across the United States,” he added. “The primary driver has been the cost of the turbine itself. The cost of a unit of power has come down dramatically. We think offshore wind can be very competitive on Long Island.”
They expect to hear back from LIPA by the end of the year, he said, but if they don’t win a contract in this round of renewable energy bidding, they plan to apply for future rounds.
“One of our advantages is fuel diversity,” he said, adding that the other renewable projects being pitched to LIPA are solar. “This is the first opportunity Long Island has for offshore wind. We’re also peak-coincident. On Long Island, the biggest power need is in the late afternoon and early evening, and we’ll be producing the most power in the late afternoon.”
The cable, which would be buried six feet under the ocean floor, deeper than most offshore utility cables, would most likely come ashore in Southampton or Hampton Bays, where it can most effectively tie into the grid. But Deepwater Wind has only just begun searching for a site to come ashore.
“It needs to connect at a strong part of the distribution system, an existing robust substation” he said. “We’re in the investigation stage of where it’s going in. We won’t be building any new infrastructure. It would be really easy to add incremental turbines. We wouldn’t have to run a second cable. We can grow as Long Island’s appetite grows.”
Mr. Grybowski said Deepwater Wind has already ruled out areas for the cable crossing near known nesting areas for piping plover and roseate terns, and plan to place the cable in a previously disturbed area.
Deepwater Wind is hoping to break ground on the Deepwater One project as soon as 2017, he said, and could begin commercial operation by 2018.
Mr. Grybowski described that schedule as “aggressive but achievable,” and added that the work they’ve done on the Block Island project has made Deepwater One a much easier process. Block Island, he said, currently trucks in diesel to power their electric plants at an astronomical 60 cents per kilowatt/hour. After the five turbines are built off the coast of Block Island, he said, the island should be able to stop using its diesel plants.
“It’s very hard and very expensive to build new gas plants in New York,” he said, adding that his firm has offered LIPA “a very competitive price” for the energy they plan to produce.
“The price of power is very dependent on the site,” he said. “In populous areas, offshore wind can compete.”