L.I. to benefit from new wind farm

L.I. to benefit from new wind farm
Great Horned Owl Jennifer Wilson Pines

If all goes according to plan, there will be a windfarm off Long Island within five years generating 350,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to Long Island and New York City.

This isn’t the same plan as a few years ago, which called for a series of wind turbines just three miles from Jones Beach. That plan was opposed by beachgoers who resented seeing the windmills (but not the oil tankers), and was opposed then by Kevin Law, who headed LIPA but who champions the new plan as president and CEO of Long island Association. (He says the old plan was too small and too intrusive.)

The good news is that technology has improved considerably over these past several years – in fact is a generation or more removed from those earlier turbines. The turbines that are envisioned for the new project are much larger and more efficient, with a blade span that is twice the size of Fenway Park’s infield, can be placed as much as a mile apart and sited in depths of 60 feet. That means that in the new plan, the turbines would be 12 miles offshore, out of the main shipping lanes, practically invisible to beachgoers, and would not even interfere with fishermen or recreational boaters.

But here’s what Long Island would gain: affordable, consistent local supply of clean, non-polluting energy that would get cheaper, relative to other sources of energy, over time, and employ workers locally.

That’s because wind turbines, which cost about $5 million apiece(a comparable cost to each hydrofracking well), do not have the ongoing costs of operations and maintenance. Just as importantly, the energy that is produced is used locally, not exported to China and India, as the natural gas that will be fracked from upstate would be.

But the cost savings go way beyond: wind power is by far the cleanest energy of all, so there are not costs that are associated with fossil-fuel extraction, processing and delivery, or the health-care and environmental costs of oil, natural gas and coal which the fossil fuel industry conveniently hides.

The cost of wind power is dropping: the cost of manufacturing the turbines is coming down, and is envisioned as an industry that can take place on Long Island as well, perhaps at the former Shoreham Nuclear site (now that would be justice), creating a new locally based industry and jobs.

Indeed, the Long Island Association, in concert with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Renewable Energy Long Island, hosted the first-ever Offshore Wind Conference on Long Island.

The new project is being spearheaded by a coalition consisting of LIPA, Con Ed and NYPA (New York Power Authority, which is seeking the proper permits from federal authorities (which controls the water use 12 miles out), conducting the public hearings and accumulating public comments, and will issue an RFP for a private company to build and install the wind turbines. (New York State would not reap any royalty or licensing revenue, because the turbines would be planted in federal waters.)

Not to go forward is to be left behind.

Although offshore wind is new to US, the world’s first offshore wind farm was built in 1991 in Denmark.

Since that time there have been over 40 offshore wind projects throughout Europe and Asia (China, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and UK).

The  world’s largest offshore wind farm, to date, was turned on in September 2010: the Thanet Offshore Wind farm off Britain’s coast is where there are 100 wind turbines generating 300 megawatts of power to supply 200,000 homes. 

Windpower has the potential to supply up to 20 percent of America’s energy needs, displacing that amount of fossil-fuel-generated energy, but can potentially supply most of the energy needed to generate electricity, as opposed to the oil, coal, natural gas or nuclear that fuels the generators.

“Wind is not the silver bullet but one puzzle piece to create bigger picture for US,” said Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “No one is saying that there should be wind exclusively but if you say ‘no’ to wind, you are saying ‘yes’ to nuclear, coal or something else,  unless you are shutting lights off. Electricity isn’t a luxury, it is a necessary, so we need large-scale infrastructure.”

Wind is a free resource, generates zero emissions, reduces dependence on fossil fuels (a national security issue as well as environmental and economic), and its implementation would help reverse some of the most serious environmental threats from acid rain and climate change.

She offered this comparison of the environmental impacts of each energy source to generate 350,000 kilowatt hours  of electric power:

To produce 350,000 kwh of electricity from coal (America’s favorite energy source) you consume 180,000 tons of coal – which means blowing up mountains or excavating. Coal emits 347,673 tons of carbon dioxide, 865 tons of nitrogen dioxide, and 1,973 of sulphur dioxide.

Natural gas, which the industry likes to call a “clean” fuel is not really clean at all, not even counting the environmental impacts of the chemicals and fossil fuels used to excavate and distribute the gas and its waste products. But just to generate the equivalent of 350,000 kwh produces 183,446 tons of  carbon dioxide, 324 tons of nitrogen dioxide, and one ton of sulphur dioxide.

To get 350,000 kwh from oil, you need 560,000 barrels of oil, spewing 296,433 tons of carbon dioxide, 562 tons of nitrogen dioxide and 2292 tons of sulphur dioxide.

To get 350,000 kwh  of electricity from wind produces “zero, zero, zero, zero of all these pollutants – a clear winner.”

A one megawatt turbine (which is not even the state of the art technology) produces 61,320,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and saves 55 million tons of carbon dioxide, 198,360 tons of sulphur dioxide, 73,580 tons of nitrogen dioxide, over the course of its 20-year life.

 Now put this into the equation: “Air pollution – soot and particulate matter from coal, oil and gas cause 1,200 premature deaths and 2,500 hearts attacks annually in New York State alone,” Esposito said. What is the pricetag on that? and has anyone calculated the economics of the “lost productivity” due to asthma and other health issues related to air and water pollution?

We hear over and over again that the reason Long Island isn’t attracting new businesses and jobs (the excuse Mangano would give to open casino gambling) is because our energy costs are so high. We are forced to give massive tax incentives to lure business or combat the threat that businesses will leave the Island.

Our electric rates are way too high. When you compare states for the cost of energy, New York, at close to 20c/kwh, is second to Hawaii, at 18c/kwh (see www.windworks4LI.org).

The cost of wind energy is initially higher than that: in 2010 it was 0.27/kwh (relatively expensive). But the cost falls dramatically over time: by 2020, the cost is estimated at less than 10 cents, so it would be much more competitive, and by 2030, would come down to 7 cents. Who would argue that the cost of electricity generated by oil, coal or natural gas will come down and not rise over that period of time?

The initial cost of electricity generated through windpower may be higher than electricity generated from coal, but that cost goes down over time, because of technology and the wider use. On the other hand, the cost of energy from fossil-fuels inevitably goes up because there is a finite amount of it, and because of all the costs associated with the extraction, processing and delivery, even before calculating the costs to the environment and public health.

Indeed, even if wind power energy costs more in today’s dollars, there are other benefits of wind power that should be factored in (while there are costs associated with fossil fuels that are never factored in).

“Who still has 20th century landline with headset phone, or who has a smart phone?” asks Gordian Raacke, executive director, Renewable Energy LI, pointing out that they both make telephone calls but the smart phone is more expensive and has drawbacks – such as needing charging and backup. But it has lots of other advantages that make the extra cost worth it, like also having a camera, acting as a computer, a GPS, delivering music, video and TV, and fits into the pocket and is mobile.

“A power plant is the same era as the rotary phone, 1967; it makes electricity. Its competitor, the wind turbine, makes electricity, but has drawbacks- it needs back-up when wind isn’t blowing, and costs more, at least initially (it costs $250,000 a day just to rent the massive crane that is used).

“But it has added features: pollution free kilowatt hours, a predictable price per kilowatt hour, uses local energy, keeps fuel dollars here in local economy…. We would be energy independent, no pipeline required, wind power needs no water to cool the turbines, and is an economic development opportunity to build an industry.”

Besides the ability to sustain a supply of clean energy and have a stabilized cost , wind power would have a larger economic impact: it is estimated that generating 350-870 megawatts of power would stimulate $2.7 billion in new economic activity in the region, produce 2300-4700 jobs during construction (depending upon how big the installation), and as many as 870 permanent jobs.

“For every 1000 megawatt of wind on the system, consumers save $300 million in wholesale energy costs,” said Carol E. Murphy, Executive Director for the Alliance for Clean Energy New York.

So far, the windpower that is being generated in the US comes mainly from the interior of the country. Off-shore is newer. But the considerable advantages of developing off-shore wind farms are because that puts the windpower closest to the nation’s largest population centers where we need power – the mid-Atlantic, Florida, California and the Texas coast.  

Long Island has a particular advantage.

“Our area is blessed with off-shore wind resource,” Raacke says, “So is the west coast, but the ocean floor there drops off much more steeply. But Long Island and New England have an amazing resource, right at our doorstop, a tremendous reservoir of natural, pollution-free energy that can’t be interrupted by anyone. If this were an oil reservoir, we would see headlines, ‘Vast New Energy Resource Discovered for New York/Metro Long Island!’ There it is. All we need to do is tap into it.”

Wind power is already being embraced around the world.

Karsten Moeller of Siemens Energy, based in Boston, described some of its major projects already underway in Europe. Siemens has constructed three windfarms in the Port of Esberg in Denmark, and is constructing a project for London that will span 60 square miles – an area nearly three times the size of Manhattan.

“We are making wind power competitive; innovations are driving down costs – direct drive, quantum blade, 25 years design lifetime – which make the maintenance easier, the turbine lighter, the blades larger, with a lifespan 20 percent longer than before, said Moeller.

Siemens is manufacturing a 6 MW turbine with a 75-meter blade – 250 feet long – out of a single piece of fiberglass. “It’s the biggest manmade single structure out of fiberglass in the world.” The swept area is twice the size of infield at Fenway.

Siemens already has the go ahead to construct is constructing one of these windpower farms 30 miles east of Montauk off of Block Island. It will be first deployment of Siemens turbine in US and only the second in world. It will consist of five 6 megawatt turbines, at a cost of $300 million. They are hoping to start construction in 2014.

It is a path-breaking project, “the first US offshore wind farm,” said Bill Moore, of Deepwater Wind.

And it’s not far from Long Island.

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