New wind plan may appeal to ratepayers

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - As the Long Island Power Authority prepares to wade back into waters for offshore wind energy, environmental and economic experts say the prospect of a lower-cost, less-visible project could help sell it to ratepayers.

LIPA announced it would join with utility Con Edison to study the prospect of a 300-megawatt wind farm 10 miles off the coast of Queens. LIPA and Con Ed both service parts of the borough, and the two would split the costs and divide energy from the project.

Experts say the cost-sharing model and a tentative plan to place the turbines farther out to sea will go a long way toward helping sell it to residents.

But many questions remain. The project would be near the flight path at Kennedy Airport, and studies have shown fields of turbines can interfere with air-traffic radar. And while the turbines will be far out at sea, they won't be invisible. The impact on fishing grounds also remains unknown.

The last time LIPA attempted a wind-farm project, between 3.5 and 5 miles off the coast of Jones Beach, the project was clouded by uncertainty over cost and the amount of energy its 40 turbines would deliver. LIPA refused to release costs until Newsday filed Freedom of Information requests.

When finally disclosed, the $800-million price tag surprised even some of the plan's most ardent supporters, and it was scrapped last summer.

At a recent LIPA trustees' meeting in Uniondale, chief executive Kevin Law promised full disclosure of the costs. Companies that ultimately bid on the project will be told "you are dealing with a public agency and the cost of your proposals ultimately will be shared with the public," he said.

Law said a working group with Con Ed was just the start of a process. "Let's proceed a step at a time," he told half a dozen TV reporters who crowded the normally staid trustees meeting. "There'll be plenty of opportunity for public input."

Neal Lewis, executive director of the environmental group Neighborhood Network, said the larger scale and the cost sharing could make it more attractive to LIPA ratepayers. But he said he was troubled that LIPA needed to shift the location to Queens to make it acceptable.

"At 10 miles out, you're cutting the visual impact by more than half," compared to the Jones Beach project. "That to me argues that we should do it somewhere on Long Island."

Peter Mandelstam, president of Bluewater Wind, which is working on an offshore project in Delaware and bid on the last LIPA project, said, "When Con Ed and LIPA look at a project of large size, the economies suggest it is financeable and will be a good deal for ratepayers." He said his company "would be delighted to look at a project off the shores of New York."

Ashok Gupta, program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he believes the issue of turbines affecting radar control near JFK was "not insurmountable." "I'm sure we can work around it," he said.

But can fishermen? Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in Montauk, said careful attention must be paid to whether the site limits access to fishing grounds. "Fishermen shouldn't be economically displaced for the sake of a new energy form," she said.


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