LIers fight Jones Beach windmill plan

Locals fear LIPA plan to erect 40 turbines off Jones Beach will blow away views - and save no money





October 17, 2005


From the sundeck of his West Gilgo beachhouse, Dick Moore has a bird's-eye view of the Atlantic Ocean, where the Long Island Power Authority wants to erect 40 wind turbines more than 400 feet tall less than four miles offshore.


"It's going to look like an industrial site with foghorns, lights, and helicopters and support barges coming and going," said Moore, co-chairman of the Save Jones Beach Ad Hoc Committee, which formed over the summer to block the 140-megawatt project, which, if built, would open in 2008.


While Moore and other barrier beach residents believe the turbines that LIPA wants to reduce its dependance on fossil fuels would mar their views, they insist their concerns are broader. Some criticize the plan because, at least initially, the power the wind farm would supply to Long Island would likely be more expensive than current electrical rates, already among the highest in the nation.


"Anybody living on the beach is immediately considered a NIMBY - not in my backyard," said Moore, an electrical engineer. "But we have a lot of people from the mainland just as much against it as I am. People from outside the South Shore look at Jones Beach as their backyard and feel it should be protected."


While there are offshore wind projects already operating in Europe, none have been built in North America. If built here, LIPA's would generate power for approximately 44,000 homes. It would be built, owned and operated by Florida-based FPL Energy, which operates land-based windmills around the country, and LIPA would buy the electricity it produces.


The 40 turbines would be sited in a 6-square-mile area of ocean southeast of Jones Beach. The tip of the blades would reach 442.5 feet above the water if LIPA gains the federal permit it applied for in April. For LIPA, questions of aesthetics - and the possibility that the wind farm will produce electricity that is more expensive than produced conventionally now - do not trump the need for it.


"With oil and natural gas prices going through the roof," Kessel said, "concerns about aesthetics pale in comparison to the need for the nation and Long Island to be far less reliant on fossil fuels. I believe the wind project has so many positives and so few negatives that it wins hands-down over any other type of project that could generate a significant amount of electricity."


Moore said there is a feasible alternative: "They would get so much more bang for the buck on the environment and on additional power if they repowered their existing plants" with new more-efficient generation equipment, Moore said. Kessel said LIPA is also looking at that, but insists such plans do not change the need to develop renewal-energy projects such as the wind farm.


Since the Jones Beach committee held its first organizational meeting last June, Moore said hundreds of people have joined along with many civic associations, fishing and other interest groups.


Formation of the coalition is one indication that the glow of approval that initially surrounded the project may be dimming. Critics say Kessel, who has been joined by many local and international environmental groups at public relations events touting the project, is going to have to fight for approval to build the turbines that would be located as close as 3.6 miles to land.


Since LIPA filed its application in April with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, public interest in the project has spread. So has opposition, which initially came primarily from commercial fishermen concerned about losing productive fishing grounds. When the committee members made their first major public appearance handing out fliers at a meeting about the project in Amityville last Tuesday, there were approximately 900 South Shore residents there, with the majority opposed to LIPA's plan.


The meeting was organized by one of the first public officials to come out against the wind park, Amityville Mayor Peter Imbert. He wrote to Kessel last August, saying, "While renewable energy sources are admirable ... the environmental and aesthetic cost to the Great South Bay and Atlantic Ocean coastline is simply too high. These behemoth structures with blades extending over 400 feet into the sky are not the answer ... Please find another solution ... "


Joe Kralovich, president of the Old Lindenmere Civic Association in Merrick and a leader of the Jones Beach group, said, "It's a state park they're going to violate. Jones Beach is my access to the ocean. It's a beautiful place. There's not another place like it on the planet. It's on the National Register of Historic Places."


The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has yet to take a position on the project. In an interview with Newsday, Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro did not endorse the wind farm proposal, but said that "State parks supports the use of viable renewable energy projects such as windpower that advance the state's goal of protecting our environment and reducing our dependence on foreign fossil fuels. We will certainly assess the potential impact of the project."


Moore said there are questions beyond aesthetics. He said a substation to be built atop a 41st "monopole," or tower, in the middle of the wind park would store more than 1,000 gallons of fuel oil and there would be lubricants in the turbines that could leak.


He said the committee wants to know how many birds would be killed by the turbine blades or distracted by the warning lights and fly into the towers. He said he was concerned that noise would be a problem - from the revolving blades and foghorns.


The committee also has financial questions. Moore said he has looked at the economics of windpower internationally and concluded that "it just doesn't pay."


Dan Zaweski, manager of LIPA's Clean Energy Initiative, said the price for the electricity the wind farm would produce is still being negotiated with FPL, but the cost would probably be the same or slightly higher than electricity generated from fossil fuels.


"As the price of oil and natural gas continues to skyrocket, the wind project is looking better and better economically," Kessel said, and should eventually provide cheaper electricity than oil and natural gas.


"Would you rather pay a few cents more for electricity, or go to a lung cancer ward because of power plant pollution?" asked Mark Serotoff of East Northport, coordinator of Sustainable Energy Alliance, a local environmental group.


As for the oil stored on-site, Zaweski said the substation would have 1,200 gallons of diesel fuel and "each turbine would probably have a mixture of greases and oils onboard that would be about 200 gallons." He said leaks were unlikely and these amounts would be insignificant compared with the amount of fuel that ships that pass through the same area carry.


Zaweski said there would be foghorns and low-level lighting to alert boaters and aircraft warning lights on the tops of at least the outer corner towers. The low-level lights would not be visible from shore while the aviation lights probably would be, he said. The foghorns would be heard for approximately a half-mile, and the blades turning would not be audible on shore, Zaweski said.


Studies of bird movements in the area are now being done in preparation for the full environmental impact statement and public hearings Kessel has promised, officials said.


"Florida Power & Light has said that they are not requesting an exclusion zone out there" to keep vessels away, Zaweski said, so boaters and fishermen could move between the towers. He said the towers and their bases "will turn into mini-reefs" that will attract marine life for fishermen and divers.


Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island who five years ago founded the Long Island Offshore Wind Initiative, a coalition of environmental groups pushing for the wind park, said, "Any energy infrastructure that is built will have some impact on our environment, our views and other issues, so it's a matter of making a choice. And we believe wind energy has minimal impacts and is the right choice."


Q & A: Why here and now?


The Long Island Power Authority's plan to erect 40 wind turbines off the South Shore has raised many questions. Here are some:


Why does the wind park need to be at the site selected off Jones Beach?


Dan Zaweski, manager of LIPA's Clean Energy Initiative, said, "We needed at least 17 1/2 miles an hour as an average wind speed, and an installation in more than 70 feet of water was not practical" because of the cost. "The entire Montauk area is a major layover spot" for migrating birds. In addition, staying at least three miles from inlets eliminated potential sites. "So what you ended up with was a relatively narrow strip, which is where the project is being sited, and then a couple of little dots here and there." Another issue was proximity to a substation ashore; one in East Massapequa can handle the extra load, Zaweski said.


How does the project affect Jones Beach, listed last year on the National Register of Historic Places?


The turbines would be visible from Robert Moses' masterpiece 4.6 miles to the northwest. LIPA says that's a plus. "Putting windmills in the Atlantic Ocean will only add to the historic nature of Jones Beach because it will be the location of the first offshore wind project in North America's history," LIPA Chairman Richard Kessel said.


Will the project save ratepayers any money?


In the short run, no. Zaweski said, "Right now we're looking at probably about the same price or maybe a little bit higher, at least initially." Kessel added that, "Oil and natural gas prices are rising at such a steep level that very soon the price of a unit of power from the wind project is probably going to equal, if not ultimately be better, than the price we're going to be paying in a few years from oil and natural gas."


LIPA's Proposal


40 Number of turbines


442 ft. Height above water


$0 Cost savings over fossil fuels (at least initially)


Comparing the projects


Wind farm projects similar to the one proposed by the Long Island Power Authority exist off the coasts of Copenhagen, Denmark; Great Yarmouth, England; and Arklow, Ireland. Here's how they compare.


Copenhagen, Denmark


Opened: 2000


Developers: Middelgrunden


Wind Turbine Cooperative,


Copenhagen Energy


Location: Copenhagen Harbor,


1.5 miles offshore


Number of turbines: 20


Electricity output: 40 megawatts


Tower height: 210 feet


Rotor diameter: 249.3 feet


Great Yarmouth, Britain


Opened: 2004


Developers: E.ON UK Renewables


Location: North Sea, 2 miles offshore


Number of turbines: 30


Electricity output: 60 megawatts


Tower height: 223.1 feet


Rotor diameter: 262.5 feet


Arklow, Ireland


Opened: 2003


Developers: Airtricity, General Electric


Location: Irish Sea, 6 miles offshore


Number of turbines: 7


Electricity output: 25.2 megawatts


Tower height: 241.1 feet


Rotor diameter: 341.2 feet




Scheduled to open: As early as 2008


Developers: Florida Power and Light for LIP A


Location: Atlantic Ocean, near Jones Beach State Park, 3.6 miles to 5.1 miles offshore


Number of turbines: 40


Electricity output: 140 megawatts


Tower height: 260 feet


Rotor diameter: 364 feet



Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.