Orsted updates South Fork wind farm plan amid concerns about delays

Source: By Mark Harrington, Newday • Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A visitor at Montauk Point on Monday takes
A visitor at Montauk Point on Monday takes photos of Orsted’s Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

Danish energy giant Orsted has filed an update to the construction and operation plan for its proposed South Fork wind farm, amid doubts by opponents and a state lawmaker that it will hit its contracted December 2022 completion date.

The proposed South Fork Wind Farm, a joint venture of Orsted USA and Eversource, last year announced plans to update its construction and operations plan for the project, which would be located in federal waters 30 miles from Montauk Point. Despite the filing last Friday, a federal website lists the project review status as “paused.

It’s uncertain how comprehensive the revised construction plan is, or specifically what’s in it. Asked for details, Orsted spokeswoman Meaghan Wims would say only that the updated plan includes wider turbine spacing of “1 nautical mile by 1 nautical mile.”

Nor would she say whether the update would impact permitting or construction timelines. Delays in a federal review of a separate project by rival developer Vineyard Wind have pushed its scheduled completion beyond its planned date in 2022.

“We continue to monitor developments at the federal level,” Wims said in a statement. “While it is too early to say the exact impact that those delays may have on our timeline, we are watching the federal permitting process closely.”

A spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said the agency has received Orsted’s revised construction plan. “We are reviewing [it] and will prepare a revised schedule,” spokeswoman Tracey Moriarty said.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who has sparred with Orsted over the need for more public disclosure about the project, said he believes the December 2022 completion date is “in jeopardy.”

Thiele, once a champion of Orsted’s South Fork project but who has cooled to it recently, said, “The position of BOEM with regard to Vineyard Wind” and President Donald Trump’s “hostility to offshore wind in general are bigger factors than people are admitting.

“Is this just typical federal bureaucratic delay from BOEM or outright hostility? Time will tell,” Thiele said.

Trump in December criticized wind turbines as expensive, harmful to birds and property values and even responsible for “tremendous fumes” during overseas manufacturing. Backers of wind power largely have refuted those assertions, saying the savings in power plant emissions far outweigh problems caused by production.

The South Fork project also could be affected by a review of a cable landing site in East Hampton, where some residents in Wainscott have launched an offensive against the project that goes beyond its potential impact on a popular park on Beach Lane, a favored cable landing site.

A representative for the group, Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, said the project risks further delays if the company doesn’t seek an alternative.

“As Orsted aggressively seeks to meet its timetable, its dismissive attitude to the legitimate landing site concerns raised by the local Wainscott community can only lead to mistakes, delays and reputational damage to the industry,” said Mike McKeon, a spokesman for the group. “Orsted is putting the entire project at risk with its stubborn insistence on Wainscott because the community will continue to resist Orsted’s ill-conceived plan for as long as it takes.”

A spokesman for LIPA, which has contracted for Orsted’s $2 billion-plus project to be completed by December 2022, said it will “will evaluate operational alternatives, if the project is delayed. Those include temporary generation or accelerating transmission projects.”

The reference to acceleration of transmission projects involves a $513 million plan to fortify the electric grid on the South Fork. The project, already approved by LIPA trustees, essentially will satisfy the increasing energy appetite in the Hamptons.

Julie Evans, who sits on the East Hampton Town Fisheries Advisory Committee as a fishermen’s representative, said there also should be a study to quantify fishermen’s compensation and mitigation packages during construction and operation of the wind farm.

“There were no bidders” for a contract to complete the study, said Evans, who is paid a stipend by Orsted. “We have no idea what compensation” for those impacted would amount to, she said.

Wims noted the proposed study of compensation for fishermen was to be commissioned by the Town of East Hampton.

Thiele said lack of requested information and studies has been a continuing stumbling block for him as he considers the project.

“As I’ve said many times, Deepwater/Orsted’s handling of community and public relations regarding this project has left much to be desired,” Thiele said. “I haven’t seen a single report or study on fishing and other impacts. If they exist, no one has shared them with me.”

Orsted, meanwhile, has seen executive turnover in its ranks after Clint Plummer, once the most visible face of Orsted to the East Hampton community and Long Island, left the company in the past month.

Plummer is chief executive of the Ravenswood fossil-fuel power plant in Queens, according to his website. He was an Orsted vice president and the company’s head of strategies and new markets.

Wims in her statement didn’t acknowledge Plummer’s departure. But she said, “Our core South Fork Wind Farm development team is led by longtime Long Island development manager Jennifer Garvey, who is taking on a larger role as both of our New York projects advance through the permitting and preconstruction stages.”

Mark Harrington, a Newsday reporter since 1999, covers energy, wineries, Indian affairs and fisheries.