Major N.Y. offshore wind project sparks NIMBY fight

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, January 11, 2021

A New York project has emerged as a contender to be the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, shifting the U.S. industry’s sights to a proposal that has encountered opposition from residents of a resort town in the Hamptons.

Developed by Ørsted and Eversource Energy, the South Fork project would consist of 15 turbines about 35 miles off the coast of Long Island and could deliver as much as 132 megawatts of power, or enough for about 70,000 homes.

Last year, South Fork moved to the top of the queue for permitting consideration by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, after developers of a different utility-scale project, Vineyard Wind in Massachusetts, withdrew their application. Officials at BOEM released a draft version of South Fork’s environmental impact statement on Tuesday (E&E News PM, Jan. 5).

Some offshore wind advocates see a more favorable environment for proposals under the incoming Biden administration, which has pledged to “double” the resource by 2030. And the state of New York views the technology as key to meeting its own goal of 70% renewable power by decade’s end, since offshore turbines could plug directly into fossil fuel-heavy New York City and its suburbs.

But one group, Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott (CPW), is planning to open a new front in its nearly two-year battle against the joint developers’ system for bringing power ashore from South Fork’s turbines.

Whether CPW will be successful is an open question, but the challenge highlights local opposition that has developed against other offshore wind proposals around the country (Energywire, Jan. 24).

Offshore wind advocates who remember the failure of the Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast due to prolonged campaigns from influential property owners on Martha’s Vineyard also may find some reasons to feel uneasy. Co-founded in 2018 by a senior partner at consultancy McKinsey & Co., CPW has reported as much as $691,000 in total expenses.

The Wainscott in the group’s name, which has a population of 650 as of 2010, is one of roughly two dozen hamlets that make up Long Island’s Hamptons region. The group says it doesn’t oppose the South Fork project as a whole.

“There’s no opposition to the wind farm; it’s the concern over the [export] cable,” said Michael McKeon, a spokesperson for CPW, referring to a plan to run the line beneath Wainscott’s beach and underneath one of the hamlet’s narrow roads until it connects to a nearby substation.

CPW says the cable’s construction would ruin the bucolic landscape, disrupt traffic and create fire hazards. It has also claimed the cable could exacerbate chemical contamination associated with a nearby airport, though a team of water engineers hired by the developers recently dismissed that idea, saying there are “no foreseeable conditions” in which that could occur.

The chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), were found by state officials to have leaked from the East Hampton airport into groundwater. CPW has suggested that the cable’s trench, which would extend into contaminated areas, could cause that contamination to spread. Parts of the airport’s grounds were later declared a Superfund site.

Developers should cross the cable through another site, like a public park that companies have described as their second but less preferred option, says CPW.

‘Important milestone’

Representatives for Ørsted and Eversource signaled optimism about South Fork’s chances of moving forward in its current form.

Asked about local opposition, spokespeople for the companies said the cable’s Wainscott route would have “the least impact on the environment and the community,” adding that they expect East Hampton to vote in coming weeks on a finalized easement agreement, followed by final approvals from New York’s Public Service Commission in the spring.

South Fork’s new position at the head of Interior’s queue also means the companies expect the project to come online by the end of 2023, they said.

“We’re pleased that South Fork Wind has reached this important milestone in the ongoing federal permitting process,” said Meaghan Wims, a spokesperson from the joint developers, in reference to Interior’s release of the draft EIS.

Ørsted and Eversource have pressed forward with the original cable landing. Late last year, they reached a $29 million draft agreement with the town of East Hampton, which contains the hamlet of Wainscott, to run the cable ashore there. The agreement also calls for a company liaison with commercial fishermen, who say they fear the project will cause them to lose access to valuable fishing grounds.

But CPW has repeatedly tried to slow the state utility regulator’s consideration of the cable, raising the prospect that it could affect the course of the project as a whole. And it has recently launched a campaign that could throw a wrench into the developers’ progress.

CPW wants to incorporate Wainscott as a village, a move that McKeon said would take permitting authority away from the more supportive East Hampton town board and deliver it into the hands of the cable’s opponents.

“The road they want to use [for the cable] would become [Wainscott] village property,” said McKeon.

In late December, he said, the group filed a 210-signature petition with East Hampton to begin the incorporation process, with the aim of putting the idea to a vote in coming months.

“We’re going to continue to oppose the cable at every turn,” he said.