Suffolk board drops Southold turbine plan

The Suffolk County Water Authority is looking at

The Suffolk County Water Authority is looking at wind power to lower electricity costs. (Oct. 5, 2010) Photo Credit: Jim Peppler

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The Suffolk County Water Authority board last night dropped plans to erect a controversial wind turbine near Southold Town's Laurel Lake after an analysis showed it would take two decades for the $500,000 investment to pay off.

The board let the proposal lapse without taking action, as the deadline for accepting it expires June 9. Under the proposal, Northern Power Systems would have installed the 150-foot high turbine at the authority's 94-acre well site.

"I think it's dead," said board member Jane Devine.

"Our decision is strictly on the economics," said James Gaughran, authority board chairman. "Our original estimate was that the payback period would be at most 12 years. Now we're being told it will be 20 years or even more."

Gayle Marriner-Smith, who organized opposition to the project, said she was relieved the board agreed "that it did not make fiscal sense" to move forward. "We thought the case had been made, but it's never dropped until it's dropped," she said.

Last winter, 17 nearby residents opposed the project at a public hearing, and town officials received more than 100 angry emails. Protesters also showed up at an authority board meeting, claiming the turbines would be noisy, unsightly and a danger to wildlife, which could get caught in the turbine's giant rotors.

The pilot wind turbine project had been considered as a way to lower the authority's $25-million annual electric bill -- about 25 percent of its budget -- to operate its network of 600 wells.

SCWA officials said the proposed Laurel Lake turbine would produce 151,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, nearly eliminating power costs for operating a half-dozen pumps that operate around the clock.

Officials said the proposal would also reduce the SCWA's carbon emissions by an estimated 104 metric tons annually. Gaughran said the board has asked sustainability chief Carrie Meek Gallagher to study other options, including solar panels or wind turbines at other sites -- perhaps done in public-private partnerships -- to lower costs in an environmentally sensitive way.

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