With just over two years before Deepwater Wind’s $2 billion, 15-turbine wind farm is scheduled to be producing energy for the South Fork, elements of the project continue to rile and divide pockets of the Hamptons.
From commercial fishing groups worried over impacts on fishing grounds to citizens' groups concerned about a cable landing site, thousands of East Enders are expressing opposition to elements of the project, which was contracted by LIPA in 2017 to provide energy to a region that it says is the only one on Long Island with increasing power needs. With the exception of fishing groups, the local objections come with words of support for offshore wind, and the project.
In the most recent setback for the project, Montauk United, a citizens’ advocacy group of more than 2,000 members in the East End hamlet, on Tuesday said it will oppose a proposed landing site for the project’s 138,000-volt cable at Hither Hills, according to Tom Bogdan, founder and president of the group.
“In every way, it does not make sense to put that [cable] facility in Montauk [at Hither Hills], and that’s what we’re against, and we will oppose it in any way we can,” he said, stressing that the group is at the same time “100 percent” in support of offshore wind.
Montauk United will work with the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee and Montauk Chamber of Commerce to oppose the cable landing in Montauk. The groups will start a petition drive and solicit partnerships with others impacted in Amagansett, Napeague and East Hampton Village, said Montauk United member Shaun de Jesus.
Clint Plummer, head of new projects for Danish energy giant Orsted, noted that the routes Deepwater has selected were “based on an extensive amount of input” during community and municipal meetings. “They are not routes that we started with. We changed them based on feedback,” he said. The other proposed landing site is at Beach Lane in Wainscott.
He noted that Deepwater is in the middle of an Article 7 proceeding for needed permits from the state which will examine the viability of two cable routes, among other things. “We need to let that process play out now,” Plummer said. “We are very confident we are on track to have all approvals we need to have project online by the 2022 in service date.”
De Jesus said potential impacts to sensitive parklands, marshlands and communities along the proposed 11-mile cable route are the chief reasons for the groups’ opposition.
“It would impact a pretty broad swath of people as well as ecological communities,” de Jesus said. “I would think a lot more people will be upset about it” than opponents in Wainscott.
But there, more than 1,300 people have signed a petition in opposition to a Beach Lane landing site. “We can have renewable energy and preserve our hamlet,” Gouri Orekondy Edlich, a member of Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee, testified at Public Service Commission hearing in June. “Deepwater Wind said they have an alternative route rather than Wainscott and we should make that happen.”
The Wainscott group’s Manhattan consulting firm, Mercury, said an outside engineer hired to review the project has recommended changing the cable connecting point to a LIPA substation in Amagansett rather than East Hampton Village to avoid further disruption.
Montauk United isn’t alone in opposing the Hither Hills route.
Residents and business leaders cited concerns ranging from traffic disruption along Napeague stretch, a beach-front connection from Montauk to points west, and effects to the wetlands surrounding the landing site.
“It seems the obvious choice should be Wainscott given that there is less disruption to the environment and the cost is significantly lower,” said Jay Fruin, a member of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, a town-appointed community group. “It [Hither Hills] is a pristine environment, unlike the developed environment that Beach Lane is.”
Montauk Chamber of Commerce president Paul Monte said the business community believes it would be a mistake to land the cable in Hither Hills, where it would have to travel longer underground to arrive at East Hampton’s substation. The group recently registered to be a party in the Article 7 process.
He pointed to the loss of an $8 million incentive package Orsted has offered the town to land the cable at Beach Lane. He also questioned the effect on offshore sand near Hither Hills, which may need to be dredged to rebuild downtown Montauk’s vulnerable beach.
“We feel we are going to be negatively impacted,” he said. “We can continue to get dumped on as the stepchild here in Montauk.”
Skirting both geographic communities are commercial fishing groups who remain the staunchest opponents of the project, and offshore wind in general. They cite loss of fishing grounds, lack of data to show there won’t be impacts on fisheries, and a belief that the costly project isn’t needed.
Deepwater is “never going to get support for industrializing the ocean from local baymen, no matter how much money they throw around or the promises they make,” said Gary Cobb, a representative for baymen on the East Hampton Town Fisheries Advisory Council. “They can schmooze it over any way they want. If we can’t stop it, the best thing we can hope for is that they do the responsible research. They have not done the studies and they know it.”
Similar concerns about the cumulative impacts of wind farms led federal regulators last week to postpone an environmental impact statement for a project in Massachusetts called Vineyard Wind, to broaden their review.
Deepwater won the LIPA project contract in 2017, a year after completing the nation's first wind farm, a five-turbine project off the coast of Block Island. Deepwater is now owned by Orsted, which also has won the bidding to build an 880-megawatt wind farm for New York State called Sunrise Wind. Both the South Fork and Sunrise Wind projects would be more than 30 miles from Montauk Point, in an Orsted lease area off the Massachusetts/Rhode Island coast. The LIPA South Fork project was initially 90 megawatts, but was expanded to 130 megawatts, enough to power upward of 70,000 homes, Orsted says.
Jeff Grabowski, who recently stepped down as co-chief executive of Orsted’s U.S. wind division and is credited with building the nation’s first array at Block Island, said the level of opposition to elements of the project is to be expected.
“Every big project of every kind faces local opposition,” he said, adding that “shore landings are hard to do.”
But he acknowledged there was “particularly strong opposition” to the South Fork project in Montauk that he tied to the fishing community, the “biggest challenge” for the nascent U.S. industry.
“We’re coming into this phase where industry has to grapple in a meaningful way with other uses of the ocean, and fishing groups are our most common neighbor. We’ll have to figure out ways to make it work out.”