Groups tout wind energy as LIPA vote nears

ALBANY -- Environmental groups are pulling out the stops in an effort to sway Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Long Island Power Authority to include a large offshore wind farm in the regional energy system.

As LIPA trustees prepare to vote next week on renewing a long-term contract for more than a dozen National Grid power plants across Long Island, environmental advocates are hawking wind energy as a clean alternative to fossil-fuel plants on billboards and in public meetings, newspaper ads and meetings with high-level energy officials.

Their goal: to convince LIPA and Cuomo to give serious consideration to a project to erect 150 wind turbines in waters 30 miles east of Montauk, to supply as much as 600 megawatts of power to LIPA. The project, by Deepwater Wind of Rhode Island, would incorporate new undersea cables that would connect the wind farm to Long Island at Shoreham, and provide backup power to Long Island through a second cable via a connection at Brayton Point, Mass.

"Right now this is definitely one of our top priorities," said Kim Teplitzky, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club in Pittsburgh. Sierra has spent more than $10,000 on a campaign that includes billboards near LIPA's headquarters touting wind energy, online news media ads, and letter-writing and phone campaigns, Teplitzky said.

"We wanted to come out of the gate with something that's really surprising and is going to get noticed," she said.

LIPA for the past two years has been reviewing and narrowing a list of dozens of potential new energy projects, including the Deepwater Wind farm.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross declined to say whether the LIPA wind farm would make the final cut.

"We are continuing to evaluate those projects that provide the overall best value to our ratepayers, while minimizing or limiting risks to LIPA's customers and offering additional operational or other benefits to LIPA's customers," Gross said.

It remains unclear how well the advocacy effort is working.

At a news briefing here Monday to announce new allocations of cheap power from the New York Power Authority, Cuomo was noncommittal when asked about offshore wind energy. "Wind as an [energy] source is very important to the state," he said, but "specific projects I'll leave to LIPA."

Tom Congdon, Cuomo's assistant secretary for energy, said the state continues to support a wind farm proposal involving LIPA, the New York Power Authority and Consolidated Edison. NYPA has applied for an offshore lease for the project and is awaiting a decision.

The state is also doing due diligence on offshore wind through the Department of State's Ocean Energy Planning, "to make sure any future project is feasible," Congdon said. "We have a load pocket [heavy use area] near the ocean in Long Island and New York City that probably makes as much sense for offshore wind as any place in the world."Members of the environmental groups have expressed concern that LIPA, which has scuttled one wind farm off the coast of Jones Beach, may be put off by wind power's high cost.

Bill Moore, chief executive of Deepwater Wind, declined to say how much the project would cost, but said it can be "competitive with new gas" plants.

He said the company has "not been involved in the Sierra Club campaign," but "we're very pleased to have this very strong support from the environmental community."

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