An illustration of the a wind turbine installation vessel. Norway-based Equinor’s Empire...

An illustration of the a wind turbine installation vessel. Norway-based Equinor’s Empire Wind 2 project would be based more than 20 miles from the South Shore from Long Beach to points east and south, and provide enough power for up to 700,000 homes when it's in service.  Credit: Maersk Supply Service

Arty Schnee of Massapequa, wearing a black "Stop Empire Wind" T-shirt, stood in the midday heat on the Long Beach boardwalk last week as part of a group that has begun regularly protesting wind farms that would be sited just 15 miles from the beach. 

“I wouldn’t be so against it if it was 80 miles out,” said Schnee, a retired teacher. He said he's also opposed to the land cable coming through Long Beach neighborhoods and about potential impacts on marine mammals.

He’s not alone. Four years after former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the first Empire Wind project as part of a major kickoff of a decadeslong plan to replace dirty old fossil fuel plants, developer Norway-based Equinor and its partner, bp, are facing unexpected headwinds.

Some residents who live along the expected cable route for part of the project through Long Beach say they worry about potential health impacts, while others say they're concerned about seeing the nearly 1,000-foot-high turbines from shore. Other express concern about a new substation in their backyard in Island Park. Still others say they're worried about impacts on marine life. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Wind farm developer Equinor and its partner, bp, are facing unexpected headwinds in building the Empire Wind 1 and 2 projects off Long Beach.
  • Some residents worry about a cable for the project running through Long Beach. Others are concerned about seeing the nearly 1,000-foot-high turbines from shore.
  • The start date for both projects have been pushed back to 2026 and 2028, as permitting and other issues have caused delays.

Equinor, which held informational sessions last week at a Long Beach hotel, has worked to quell the concerns, even as it continues negotiating with local governments on a benefits package that could ease some of the pain.

The start date for Equinor's Empire 1 and 2 projects recently were pushed back to 2026 and 2028, respectively, as permitting and other issues have caused delays of about a year. The state is counting on a new fleet of wind-energy projects as the core of a new green-energy push by 2035 as it powers down carbon-belching oil and gas-fired plants.

The effort is meeting perhaps its stiffest resistance on Long Island, where Empire 1, which will send its energy to New York City via Brooklyn, will be closest to shore. The 3-mile, land-based cable for Empire 2 is slated to come ashore in Long Beach and run to a substation in Island Park.

Equinor has commissioned a survey of hundreds of residents in the area and found that more than half thus far expressed support for the project, while around a third opposed. The company acknowledges it has some work to do in persuading that one-third to support it.

On the Long Beach boardwalk last week, as they have been for months, homeowners Tim and Christina Kramer flagged down passersby, passed out leaflets and sought signatures in opposition to the projects

"It's right at my doorstep," said Christina Kramer. 

The Empire 2 cable is slated to run down their street, a concern, she said, given the high voltages and current 1,260 megawatt capacity of the array.

“If it was just visually obstructive, I’d suck it up,” said Kramer, a photographer and teacher. “But I can’t unsee all I’ve learned in terms of the impact” of the project, while the developers will reap “billions.” Her flyer asks local residents, “Is your home on the route for exposure to Harmful, Cancer-Causing EMFs and Radiation?," referring to electromagnetic fields.

On the top floor of the Allegria Hotel, Equinor engineers were doing their best to quell those concerns.

“There’s more than 40 years of research on this question, and none has connected electromagnetic fields from transmission lines or any other sources as a cause of any health consequences,” said Ben Cotts, a consulting engineer for Equinor.

Greg Hastings, a construction manager, said the cable will run 60 to 80 feet beneath the beach before making land at Riverside Boulevard, causing as little disruption as possible during the offseason. From Riverside it will run along East Broadway to Lincoln Boulevard and East Harrison Street before going under the channel beside the bridge to Island Park. He said the street work is expected to be largely completed during a single non-summer period.

Alex Gomez, another Equinor engineer, said the planned substation in Island Park will be no higher than 60 feet above the water line, with some of the nondescript buildings on the site to be partly protected from views with vegetation. “We’ll try to make sure we don’t have overwhelming structures that are imposing on anyone,” he said.

Addressing concerns over impacts on sea mammals, permitting manager Jordan Carduner said the company will not pile drive the towers into the sea bed during the January through April period, and the remainder of the year will employ several methods to make sure the thousands of blows of pile driving don’t occur when whales are spotted in the area. They’ll use bubble curtains to contain the noise, listen for whales with special audio equipment and monitor the surface with specially trained whale watchers.

Despite all the assurances, several residents who attended the session expressed concerns.

“I’m against it until I know it’s safe,” said Linda Giles, a Long Beach resident. “We don’t have definite answers. The area is going to be full of cables.”

“Mostly we don’t like the impact on whales and the cable going by peoples’ houses,” added Phyllis Libutti, also of Long Beach.

It’s not just residents who are criticizing Equinor’s approach.

“If there’s a way not to do a project, Equinor seems to be embracing that model,” said John Bendo, president of the Long Beach City Council, noting the city recently hired legal and technical experts to “help guide us through the process. Sometimes it feels like Equinor believes a magic wand is going to wave and it’s all going to fall into place for them."

Equinor spokeswoman Lauren Shane said, “As our projects continue to make progress, people have more questions about what that they can expect. That's why we've had numerous meetings, briefings and open houses where we've reached elected officials, civic leaders, and hundreds of community members over the last year.” The company, she said, is “committed to continuing the dialogue.”

Meanwhile, issues relating to community benefits packages for Long Beach and Island Park are “up for negotiation,” said Brian Young, a senior communications consultant for Equinor. “We’re definitely working with community as much as we can, meeting those …. And trying to be as unobstructive as possible.”r

Editor's note -- Equinor permitting manager Jordan Carduner was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.

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