LI's wind energy potential is too great to ignore

A wind turbine handmade at the Westhampton shop

A wind turbine handmade at the Westhampton shop of Roy Rakobitsch. His wind turbine company powers its own operation entirely off the grid. (Credit: Handout)

A 20-mile-long column of turbines marches across the horizon, from the Rockaways to Jones Beach. Windmills rise above farms and businesses throughout the East End. And across Long Island, rotors of all shapes and sizes spin over school yards and factories, landfills and ballfields, marinas and residential rooftops.

By 2040, renewable-energy experts say, businesses, municipalities, school districts and homeowners will have tapped into an energy resource sweeping across the Island: wind.

To be sure, the offshore wind project - by the Long Island Power Authority, Con Edison and New York Power Authority - is far from a fait accompli. Like its failed predecessor at Jones Beach several years ago, it could sputter out before it ever hits the water. Or, if critics' arguments prove true, it could stall after Phase One: a plan to erect 100 turbines 13 miles off the coast that could produce 300 megawatts of power.

Expensive and intermittent

Opponents argue that wind energy is expensive and intermittent, but industry experts say the potential is too great to ignore. Advancements in technology are expected to make wind power cheaper, more consistent and less obtrusive.

By 2040, said Kevin Law, LIPA's president and chief executive, wind will supply about 10 percent of Long Island's power.

Still, wind technology is not the Island's silver bullet. It performs worst during the high-demand summer months. It generates energy only when the wind blows. And, while acceptance of windmills is growing, people remain concerned about how they look and sound.

"There's not one savior," said Huntington's chief sustainability officer, Terese Kinsley, who would like to see small turbines powering concession stands on town beaches.

Energy storage is key

Improvements in energy storage, however, could make wind power more reliable, allowing energy captured during windy days to be saved for calm ones.

And as researchers develop new, smaller turbine models - vertical eggbeaters, pinwheels, shapes still unimagined - homeowners may be more inclined to mount them in the backyard.

Today, prompted by incentives including a LIPA rebate and a federal tax deduction, East End businesses are leading the way, with turbines aimed at cutting their electricity bills.

By 2040, "just about every farm is probably going to have a wind turbine up," said Jeff Lang, who's on Suffolk County's wind energy subcommittee and is former wind technology director for Mattituck-based Eastern Energy Systems.

Towns, school districts and groups of homeowners, pooling their resources, could own industrial-size turbines, like the 156-foot structure spinning over Half Hollow Nursery in Laurel.

At 89 years old, Lloyd Rasweiler, owner of the nursery and Long Island's biggest turbine, says he wasn't seeking to be a trendsetter. The windmill, launched in April and expected to power his entire operation year round, just made business sense, he said.

"I've been around a long time and I've seen a lot of changes," said Rasweiler, who grew up on a vegetable farm in Malverne. "Farming went from horse and plow to tractors. The wind is here. Why not use it?"

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