Crews began preliminary work on the roads of Wainscott Friday as a contingent of political and business leaders championed the start of construction of the state’s first offshore wind farm.
"Long Island, you are the first, it’s always great to be first, congratulations," said Gov. Kathy Hochul to kick off a groundbreaking ceremony in East Hampton Friday morning, saying the work was "just the beginning."
The South Fork Wind Farm, which would bring up to 130 megawatts of offshore wind to the East End, powering 70,000 homes, is a small part of the state’s goal of 9,000 megawatts of wind by 2035, or around a third of the state’s energy needs, Hochul said.
Later asked by Newsday about the $2.013 billion cost of the project, one of LIPA’s most expensive, Hochul said, "It’s always more expensive to be the first. Every new form of energy is going to have some initial start-up costs."
But she added, "You’ll eventually see costs come down. This was an important investment."
Compared with South Fork Wind’s average 21 cents a kilowatt-hour cost over 25 years, more recently contracted projects are priced at around 8 cents, which is about the same cost for conventional natural gas power plants, which must be retired by 2040.
LIPA chief Tom Falcone called the 2017-approved wind farm "a great project and a long time coming." Energy from the array, which will be located off the coast of Rhode Island, is expected to arrive in East Hampton and the East End at the end of 2023.
"We’re establishing, right here, an entirely new form of energy for not just for the East End and New York but this region," he said.
Customer bills would increase around $1.58 a month when the array is producing power from developers Orsted and EverSource, whose officials praised New York for leading the offshore wind transition. Falcone said LIPA needed to invest in clean new energy to comply with state environmental law and as dirty old fossil fuel plants near retirement.
"We’re able to leapfrog from the 60-, 70-year old plants to a new form of generation, and we’ll be moderating costs by [capitalizing on the] size and scale and technology that will bring down the cost of offshore wind," he said, as newer arrays get built.
Added Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), "It may be expensive power but this is the future. We must electrify with renewables and get ourselves off dirty fossil-fuel plants."
Opponents of the land-based cable in Wainscott were not at the event, but a small contingent of commercial fishing interests were outside, including Bonnie Brady of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, who said the impacts of pile-driving turbines and other factors would offset any benefit.
"You don’t destroy the environment to save it," she said. She and others oppose the placement of turbines and cables that will reduce access to fishing grounds.
To residents of Wainscott who have opposed the cable, Hochul, in response to a question said, "It’s a short-term disruption, just like any construction project," she said, "but a long-term benefit of weaning ourselves from fossil fuels … I understand the frustration, but ultimately it’s been planned in a way to [cause] the least amount of disruption."
Mike McKeon, a spokesman for the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, said that while the group supports offshore wind, "we continue to have serious reservations regarding an infrastructure project that runs its cable through residential neighborhoods, and next to a [toxic] Superfund site, particularly when better alternative sites were available. Our focus will continue to be on protecting our community."
U.S. Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland, who acknowledged the East Hampton event was taking place on the "ancestral homeland of the Shinnecock Indian Nation," called the start of work "a historic milestone" and told attendees the offshore wind onslaught is "really going to get big." The Biden administration has a goal of 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
"This project and others like it will promote the development of a robust domestic U.S. supply chain of offshore wind while ensuring that these projects promote good-paying union jobs," she said.
Patrick Guidice, business manager of Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said his members were already at work on the South Fork cabling and substation project, which envisions up to 100 jobs through contractor, Haugland Energy Group, which is sourcing material locally.
Environmentalists and officials noted that the start of wind-energy production was a long time coming.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who has been advocating for wind power for decades, said the moment on Friday was "a bit surreal."
"When you work on something for over 20 years and you finally see it happen, it’s mind blowing, but it’s also gratifying," she said.