The optimism began with the recent announcement that the Long Island Power Authority and Consolidated Edison have started a joint study for an offshore wind project in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of the Rockaways.
This follows a Public Service Commission ruling allowing a major Spanish firm to invest in wind plants upstate. That electricity, however, is a long way from Long Island, and that's why the appointment of Richard Kessel as head of the New York Power Authority has local significance.
Kessel's priority in his new job is building a major north-south transmission line to move cheap, alternative energy, including hydropower from Canada, from upstate to downstate.
Kessel's appointment comes as a new political consensus in favor of wind power is emerging. Gov. David Paterson has eagerly endorsed it, as has Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wants to seed the ocean waters around the city with turbines.
And just months after Kevin Law, LIPA's chief executive, shelved a controversial and way-too-costly project to put a wind park off Jones Beach, he smartly wants to get the utility back in the game if the price is right.
Offshore wind, however, may still be too expensive, and we're probably several years away from the manufacture of turbines that can be placed far enough into the ocean so as not to be seen from the shore. And while offshore wind is possible, it will never be enough.
That's why the PSC ruling, which got little attention in our area despite its signaling a major change in regulatory policy, is so important.
The decision allows Iberdrola, the world's leading producer of wind power, to invest in wind parks, and the company says it will spend $2 billion on such parks spread throughout upstate. We need it; only 1 percent of the electricity used in the state at peak load comes from wind.
As of now, however, all that potential energy means little to Long Island. It can't get here. New York's power grid can't move power up and down the state. Kessel, a longtime advocate of wind power - sometimes too strong a supporter, since as head of LIPA he kept pushing for the Jones Beach project despite it ballooning costs - understands that a new transmission line is critical for moving cheap and clean power.
Building such a major project takes political will and savvy, and Kessel's re-emergence as a statewide energy kingpin attests to those skills.
LIPA's Rockaways project is still in its infancy. The authority shouldn't move forward with any project that costs ratepayers too much and would prohibit them from repowering some of the Island's older generating plants. Con Ed's involvement and willingness to commit to a long-term contract to share the purchase of the wind power, as well as some state incentives, could combine to make the numbers work.
The project still needs to be designed with environmental sensitivity to the fish and birds in its vicinity, and to its consequences to the shipping lanes and radar equipment used at JFK airport.
Its location would benefit LIPA's customers in the Rockaways, as the necessary upgrades to the transmission system there would make electricity in the coastal area more reliable.
Harnessing offshore and upstate winds can reduce our carbon emissions and our reliance on foreign oil and fossil fuels. It's a way to head into the future, we hope, with the wind at our backs.