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Long Island

Wind farm’s long-term cost will be high for power projects

One of Deepwater Wind's turbines seen Aug. 15,

One of Deepwater Wind's turbines seen Aug. 15, 2016 off Block Island. Photo Credit: AP / Michael Dwyer

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a speech last month touted an offshore wind farm 30 miles from Montauk Point, he made special note of its “inexpensive energy,” saying it would “drive the economy.”

While the project by developer Deepwater Wind promises many benefits, including meeting LIPA’s green-energy goals and the state’s Clean Energy Standard, it’s hard to make the case that the power it produces will be inexpensive.

With an all-in development cost of $740 million, the 90-megawatt project will be among the most expensive power sources for Long Island to date.

By the time the 20-year contract to purchase all the energy from the wind farm expires by 2042, Long Islanders will have paid over $1.46 billion for energy from the array — $59 million a year at 16 cents a kilowatt-hour, by Newsday estimates. LIPA has signed the contract and submitted it to the state comptroller and attorney general for review.

LIPA previously has pointed to the Deepwater’s Block Island wind farm cost of 23.57 cents with a 3.5 percent annual increase, and the high cost LIPA has paid for solar power — up to 22 cents per kilowatt-hour — in suggesting the Deepwater project will be relatively less expensive. Because of the intermittent nature of wind, the array, off the coast of Rhode Island, will produce power around 50 percent of the time.

Power from the current crop of natural-gas-fueled plants on Long Island costs around 7.6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Commercial fishing groups have generally opposed offshore wind energy due to the loss of fishing grounds and impact on the sea bottom, but a Siena College poll last month found 76 percent of Long Islanders supported the concept when the projects were 10 miles or more from shore.

Deepwater is part of a portfolio of projects to help fortify the South Fork power grid that include two battery storage units, temporary mobile power generators and demand reduction programs to reduce customer electric usage by between $67 million and $90 million a year, or $1.19 a month, LIPA has said.

LIPA says displacing conventional energy purchases and the ability to delay an expensive power cable project could offset the costs by $31 million to $75 million a year.

The project “will be built at the lowest cost to meet consumers’ electricity needs” and the state’s clean-energy targets, LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan said.

A related project to boost South Fork power with new power lines and other system upgrades that in itself will resolve the South Fork power gap will cost $513 million, and add $2.48 a month to ratepayer bills by its completion in 2026.

The Deepwater Wind project came in response to a PSEG request for proposals to meet increasing electric demand on the South Fork. South Fork customers use as much as 18 percent more electricity than ratepayers elsewhere on Long Island, according to the utility’s calculations. Much of the extra usage occurs in summer.

Carole Leonard, president of Leisure Village in Ridge, which is all-electric, said the project, “is only for subsidizing the elite mega-mansions on South Fork of the Island, yet the entire Long Island population will foot the bill.”

Said LIPA: “All Long Island residents benefit” from cleaner, more resilient energy, negotiated “at the lowest cost for consumers.”

The project has broad support from environmental groups that have been pushing LIPA to secure offshore wind power, and LIPA’s board approved it unanimously. East End towns were key backers.

Long Islanders will see an annual bill from the wind farm of about $59 million, starting at the end of 2022, if all goes as planned. The cost would rise to $84 million by 2042.

The project is expected to provide 371,000 megawatt-hours of energy a year, and LIPA would be obligated to buy all the energy.

A listing of the 20-year cost of LIPA power sources by the state Comptroller’s office suggests the offshore wind farm would rank near the top. The 350-megawatt Caithness power plant in Yaphank, for instance, will cost ratepayers $1.676 billion, while the Neptune cable’s capacity purchase agreement will cost $1.75 billion.

Among renewable projects, the most expensive is the Bear Swamp water power project, at $924 million, with 100 megawatts of summer capacity; the Brookhaven Lab solar farm at $298 million for 32 megawatts, and the Shoreham Solar Commons power purchase agreement for $177 million at 24.9 megawatts.

“For LIPA it’s kind of a bold move, but somebody has to do it if we’re to get anywhere,” said James F. Manwell, director of the University of Massachusetts Wind Energy Center. He described the LIPA project, 50 miles from East Hampton, as “fairly small” by global wind-farm standards, with just 15 turbines.

But Manwell said its size may be a benefit.

“What has to happen is these projects have to start small and will have to be more expensive until production gets ramped up,” he said.

More generally, Manwell questioned the notion of using the wind farm to address a summer peak on the South Fork.

“It’s a real interesting idea to make it a peaking plant, but it is a bit tough,” he said. “What happens on those days when there is no wind and there is a high electric load?”

One person closely associated with the project said that while the wind farm would be the flagship power generator in a complex project, the project alone can’t meet soaring South-Fork demand.

This person also noted the necessity of the $513 million project to fortify the South Fork electric grid, including beefed-up power cables: “The [answer] is the transmission solution, not the wind. The wind is being built to comply with a [green-energy] requirement. The wind is allowing you to delay it [the transmission project] by up to four years.”

He noted power from the wind farm will help alleviate an energy shortage from East Hampton village to Montauk starting in 2022.

Cuomo and LIPA have said the wind farm would provide enough energy to power up to 50,000 homes. Deepwater Wind based the estimate on average usage in New York State of 600 kWh a month.

But Long Island ratepayers actually averaged around 775 kWh a month in 2016. That would reduce the total to 39,000 homes. South Fork residents use about 914 kWh a month. Using that figure, the wind farm would power about 32,000 homes.

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