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Opposition can’t be allowed to set regional energy goals

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

I grew up on the village side of Georgica Pond and explored every inch of it in my sailing dinghy. Notwithstanding the alarming degradation of water quality, the pond remains a remarkably beautiful and peaceful place and I sympathize with those who seek to protect it and other similarly contaminated water bodies, like Wainscott Pond.

But  year-round residents who have called East Hampton home for their entire lives know that big challenges (like climate change) and local concerns (like readily available and clean power) cannot be ignored. The 130 megawatts of power that Orsted’s South Fork Wind Farm will produce will meet growing demand with a cutting-edge renewable resource while simultaneously addressing the crucial threat of sea level rise to our coastlines and way of life. Opposition by some Wainscott homeowners cannot be allowed to dictate regional energy policy, let alone the future of East Hampton.

And these types of projects are not new.

I served as mayor of the Village of Greenport from 1994 to 2007. In 2003, we entered into an agreement with a developer to facilitate construction of a 50-megawatt power plant on village-owned land, designed to serve peak demand in East Hampton by using an existing cable that runs under Peconic Bay. Sixteen years later, the plant and its operation have produced no controversy, and the village and local school have enjoyed important rent and tax income while helping to meet the energy needs of our neighbors.

In 2017, Greenport negotiated to run a high-capacity cable underground — through my neighborhood, one block from my house — and then under Greenport Harbor to serve the peak needs of nearby Shelter Island. There was understandable concern among my neighbors, but the project was executed responsibly and without incident. We got a rebuilt street, the village received a cash payment of more than $1 million, and our electric system gained a critical backup connection to the power grid. Furthermore, the project eliminated the need for the dirty oil-fired generators used each summer on the island.

The impacts of the Greenport Shelter Island power line project were de minimis and short-lived when weighed against the fiscal and physical benefits to the village and the critical energy and environmental benefits to Shelter Island. The technology used to lay the cable underwater, horizontal directional drilling, is identical to what the South Fork Wind Farm will use for the cable landing at Beach Lane in Wainscott.

The coastal threat recently became real in Greenport when the North Ferry Company announced plans to raise its landings by 18” because of rising tides that regularly interrupt ferry service to Shelter Island. More recently, erosion threatens the viability of the area along Dune Road west of Shinnecock Inlet in Hampton Bays. Add to this, ongoing discussions in multiple East End communities about moving hotels back to protect them from rising seas.

The electric load pocket in East Hampton is only going to get worse unless new power is brought in. The South Fork Wind Farm offers the best opportunity to do so with minimal impacts while putting East Hampton at the cutting edge of the shift away from fossil fuels to address sea-level rise. For this to happen, neighbors and communities need to cooperate, especially given that any adverse impacts will be short lived and occurring only in the off-season.

David Kapell, a former mayor of Greenport, is president of Stirling Public Policy, a consultancy that represents offshore wind energy interests.