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Confusion after LIPA wind farm meeting postponed

This turbine is similar to those being

This turbine is similar to those being proposed for waters off the South Fork. This turbine is in the Block Island Wind Farm. Credit: Deepwater Wind

New York State’s decision to postpone LIPA’s consideration of an offshore wind farm that is popular with environmentalists prompted confusion and rancor in its aftermath, as the Cuomo administration works on a wind-energy blueprint that could include other areas directly off Long Island.

A presentation prepared by the Long Island Power Authority this month — before the state stepped in recently and nixed a LIPA trustee vote — included a map of up to six “potential” New York wind-energy areas, including a long, straight swath 12 miles off the coast of the entire South Fork.

Another site comprises more than 100,000 acres in an area beyond an existing wind-energy area that LIPA and Con Edison previously had identified about 12 miles from Long Beach. Fishing groups oppose use of the location for a wind farm.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which has taken over that LIPA-Con Ed project, has been working for months on a comprehensive plan for wind energy for the state. A draft “blueprint” of that plan is due out in coming weeks.

A map similar to LIPA’s that lists the same six potential wind energy areas for New York appears in the state’s April cost analysis for Clean Energy Standard. In it, NYSERDA identified the South Fork coastal area off the Hamptons as having the potential to produce 3,081 megawatts of wind power from about 385 turbines rated 8 megawatts each.

LIPA declined to comment and NYSERDA declined to discuss the blueprint before it’s released, but stressed that the cost study was for “analysis purposes only.”

In addition to the three areas closest to Long Island, the map lists two large sites off New Jersey’s coast and another off Rhode Island.

LIPA trustees had been scheduled to vote last Wednesday on a 90-megawatt wind-farm proposal by developer Deepwater Wind in the federal Rhode Island wind-energy area 30 miles from Montauk Point. But a late-night decision by NYSERDA prompted cancellation of the board meeting, an unprecedented move, and postponement of the vote.

LIPA chief executive Tom Falcone, in one of his most visible moments since taking the helm in March, on July 14 announced the authority’s decision to endorse the wind project, and was even photographed with wind-turbine replicas on his desk, indicating approval was just days away. He said in an interview that the utility had found the project the most economical of a number of options to resolve a looming South Fork summer-peak electric shortage.

The state’s decision to postpone the trustee vote disappointed Long Island environmentalists and at least one East End official, who have expressed frustration for years about LIPA’s on-again, off-again wind ambitions. One group was rumored to have bought Champagne for the board meeting.

“It’s awful, pulling a major meeting like this at the last minute,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island and a longtime advocate for solar and wind power. “It causes a lot of uncertainty and it scares people. It scares investors.”

LIPA trustees in 2014 rejected as too costly plans for a larger, $1.5 billion 100-turbine project by Deepwater Wind. Newsday reported at the time that David E. Shaw, the majority investor in Deepwater through his D.E. Shaw & Co., had contributed more than $38,000 to campaigns of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo through 2014, and more than $1 million to President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action campaign committee.

LIPA trustee Mark Fischl said he favors the latest Deepwater proposal and hopes to vote for it.

“I can’t imagine it’s dead,” Fischl said in an interview, responding to a former state official’s prediction that the project has a 20 percent chance of surviving the state’s blueprint intact. “I hope like heck it’s not [dead]. I’d be very unhappy. Nothing I’ve heard indicated it was dead.”

Deepwater Wind, in a statement from chief executive Jeff Grybowski, indicated it is banking on the project making it through state scrutiny.

“We remain confident that it will become a major part in meeting New York’s clean energy goals,” Grybowski said. “We respect LIPA’s decision to postpone its hearing. . . .”

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which leases ocean sites, has yet to receive any formal request for the Hamptons-area site or other proposals beyond NYSERDA’s, said spokesman Stephen Boutwell.

If it were to, he said, the agency would work with the New York Renewable Energy Task Force, which includes federal and state agencies, local governments and tribes, to “identify other users of the areas and environmental concerns to assess the suitability of areas for leasing.”

Should the state move forward with any of the additional wind-energy areas listed in the LIPA and NYSERDA maps, they can expect opposition from fishing groups.

“Those [potential] wind-energy areas would destroy multiple fisheries,” said Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd., a Rhode Island commercial fishing group. Added Drew Minkiewicz, an attorney for the Fisheries Survival Fund, representing commercial scallopers, “All of them [wind-energy areas] are right smack dab in the middle of scallop grounds.”

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