SUFFOLK CLOSEUP
by Karl Grossman |

I took a trip recently to an offshore wind farm, a sample of what soon may be — way out to sea and beyond sight — off the coast of Babylon, Islip and Brookhaven towns.

You might have seen the full-page ad that’s been running the last several weeks in major magazines featuring a color photo of the first offshore wind farm in the United States — east of Long Island — with this heading: On a clear day, you can see the future.

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Two weeks ago I visited this wind farm, which is off Block Island.

The trip was organized by Deepwater Wind, its builder, and Renewable Energy Long Island, a group that has long urged the utilization of the wind that blows off Long Island’s shores.

The day wasn’t clear — it was hazy — but it was clear upon seeing the country’s first offshore wind farm that it is a part of our energy future.

The use of offshore wind is especially important for the East Coast with its big cities and well-populated stretches between them, which is problematic for on-land wind turbines.

Close to home, there’s a 15-turbine South Fork Wind Farm proposed for 30 miles southeast of Montauk, which would also constructed by Deepwater Wind. East Hampton Town is already planning to have 100 percent of its electricity coming from this offshore wind source and solar energy by 2020.

And earlier this month, New York State identified more than one million acres of water off the South Shore for possible wind energy areas.

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A turbine off Block Island. (Credit: Karl Grossman)

According to a report issued by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, the sites present the “fewest conflicts with ocean users, natural resources, infrastructure and wildlife, and the greatest potential for the cost-effective development of offshore wind energy to meet the state’s goals.”

“Offshore wind turbines will be located far offshore and will not be noticeable from the shoreline,” emphasized the report.

This was an objection raised in earlier efforts to develop offshore wind off Jones Beach and also Martha’s Vineyard. A technological goal (and now, achievement) of the Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind was to figure out how wind turbines can be placed in deep water — thus its name Deepwater Wind — and avoid these concerns.

Click here to get a clear look at the proposed areas in the Atlantic south, sitting due south of Babylon, Islip and Brookhaven towns, that NYSERDA is eyeing for possible placement of wind farms. 

Scroll down and click on the bulleted line titled “View large, individual maps of the Area for Consideration and Indicative Wind Energy Areas (PDF).”

The first map that comes up, marked “East,” denotes the portion of ocean off the South Shore that is being considered for wind farms — indeed far out to sea and out of sight from land.

Between harvesting the winds offshore and the sunlight that shines plentifully upon Long Island — all the area could achieve, as East Hampton intends in just three short years, a 100 percent renewable energy goal.

I’m more a lover of the beauty and grandeur of nature than most things that people make — with exceptions like most sailboats and jet planes, certain sports cars, great architecture and, of course — very much so — great art.

It took an hour on the boat to travel where the five turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm stood — their 240-foot long blades revolving slowly, silently, gracefully.

“Awesome!” exclaimed one passenger on the boatload of local officials and environmentalists. “Impressive,” said another.

“I’m struck by their silence and certainly those blades have a really elegant appearance,” commented Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming.    

“It’s very impressive,” said Joseph OByrne of Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island. Mr. OByrne, an Orient resident, added that centuries-old Sylvester Manor is now raising money to “rebuild our own windmill — and here is the newest version.”                

“Beautiful,” said another onlooker.

Indeed, the wind turbines were beautiful.

And, I daresay, if they could be reduced in size and were able to fit into the Museum of Modern Art, they would have an honored place.

“The U.S. needs more renewable energy, a problem felt on Block Island, R.I., where residents paid some of the highest electricity prices in the country while burning a million gallons of diesel fuel each year,” the Citibank ad says. “Citi provided long-term financing to help Deepwater Wind build the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. — part of Citi’s $100 billion commitment to finance sustainable energy projects. The Block Island Wind Farm can help lower electric bills by up to 40 percent and reduce carbon emissions by 40,000 tons a year, ushering in a new era of American renewables.”

The Block Island Wind Farm is now providing all the island’s energy needs and sending much of the electricity on to mainland Rhode Island.

Each turbine generates six megawatts of electricity — significantly more electricity than on-land wind turbines, which have to be trucked to where they are placed, going on highways and fitting under bridges. This limits their size. Offshore wind turbines are assembled in coastal areas and barged out to be placed at sea — so they can be larger and harvest more electricity.

Europeans have been constructing offshore wind farms for decades. There are thousands of turbines in the waters off the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark — and on the other side of the planet, China is building them as well.

The U.S. is now joining in.

As the boat neared Montauk on its return, Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, said, “We just saw the future of energy right off our shores.” 

Top: The Deepwater Wind farm off Block Island at sunset. (Credit: Deepwater Wind)