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Early review of South Fork Wind Farm project found power shortfalls during peak summer periods

Image displayed by the South Fork Wind Farm

Image displayed by the South Fork Wind Farm at a public forum in East Hampton in 2017. Credit: South Fork Wind Farm project

LIPA in 2017 went ahead with the South Fork Wind Farm project despite internal findings that its ability to produce energy during critical summer peak times would be limited to about half the days it was needed, according to a confidential review done for the utility.

A copy of that review released earlier this year as part of a lawsuit filed by a ratepayer says even with the wind-farm operating, there'd still be power shortfalls on 77 of the 152 peak summer days given the weaker summer winds and the South Fork's soaring appetite for energy.

LIPA has said the project was the most economical of the range of plans it considered in the request for proposals.

LIPA initially said the cost of the project it would add $1.21 to average customer monthly bills.

The original $1.62 billion contract award has increased to over $2 billion, with greater power output.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the construction and operations of the South Fork Wind Farm, with final federal approval of the plan expected early next year. It's one of the final steps before construction can begin. The "historic" project is expected to receive all its needed permits by early next year, when construction of the project's transmission cable is expected to begin, said David Hardy, chief executive of Orsted Offshore North America.

But that hasn't stopped a handful of opponents from working to block it. Earlier this month, the nonprofit Government Justice Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Long Island ratepayers alleging that LIPA "ignored its own criteria for power production resources" in entering into a contract for the South Fork Wind Farm.

The suit calls the project's power, "unreliable … because it depends on an intermittent resource to generate electricity."

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County, alleges LIPA violated state procurement laws and the contract "should be declared void."

In a statement, LIPA said its evaluation of the project, "took all technical considerations into account, including those described in the report, as well as the environmental benefits" of offshore wind.

"As with all wind projects, it was determined that the totality of benefits outweighed the variable nature of wind power," including on possible shortfall days, LIPA said.

Developers Orsted and Eversource declined to comment on the suit.

The LIPA study was done as part of LIPA and PSEG Long Island's review of energy projects for the South Fork before the 2017 award of the wind farm project.

The study showed the utility could partially offset the summer power shortfall by adding battery storage units to the proposal, and LIPA ultimately adopted that plan.

But the study called for far more batteries than LIPA approved — 33 megawatts of storage compared with the 10 megawatts LIPA ultimately approved. LIPA said the larger number of batteries were "determined to be not cost effective."

In the end, LIPA agreed to increase the size and output of the wind farm from an original 90 megawatts to the current 130 megawatts.

A megawatt of wind energy can power more than 350 homes.

"Without the battery, shortfalls occur on 77 of the 152 peak-period days, or about 50% of the days," the LIPA document states. "With the battery, shortfalls occur on 19 of the 152 peak-period days, or about 12%."

The South Fork Wind Farm, with a cable expected to make land in Wainscott, is expected to begin producing energy by late 2023.

According to the study, the largest energy shortfall risk was in August, when 20 of the 30 days were expected to experience a shortfall, with no battery.

With 33 megawatts of battery storage, the number of shortfall days in August was reduced to seven.

The study examined two scenarios, with the more conservative approach finding shortfalls of up to 50% during the peak time. A second probability review found shortfalls around 42% of the time.

Wainscott resident Si Kinsella, who is plaintiff in several lawsuits that take issue with elements of the project, including the recent Government Justice Center suit, argues the project is economically unfeasible and would disrupt roadways where the project's land-based cable will run through Wainscott, including near his home.

Project developers Orsted and Eversource, in a statement to Newsday Nov. 16, said the South Fork Wind Farm "will help meet the area’s energy challenge, delivering renewable energy when and where it’s needed most and providing the most affordable way to meet LIPA’s reliability and clean energy goals for the South Fork."

The companies said the project is "designed to help prevent summer power shortages on the South Fork. During peak summer hours, the wind farm will supplement existing power sources to help ensure the South Fork has sufficient power supply."

They also said newer, more powerful turbines will help reduce the footprint of the project from an original 15 turbine units to "no more than 12."

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Kinsella said he was skeptical that toxic soil and ground water along the route will be properly tested and remediated.

Eversource officials said plans are in place to test soil and water removed during construction.

LIPA and its contractor PSEG Long Island ultimately went beyond insuring the South Fork would have adequate power by not only contracting for 40 megawatts above the original contract, but also approving a $513 million grid upgrade project for the South Fork that ultimately solves the problem of that region’s growing capacity. Ratepayers across Long Island will be paying an average $2.50 more a month for that upgrade, once it’s complete, atop the up to $1.58 a month for South Fork Wind energy.The original bidding proposal by LIPA envisioned the South Fork project as "an alternative to adding new transmission lines."

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