“THE POWER OF WIND – THE LONG ISLAND OFFSHORE ENERGY ALTERNATIVE” BY KATHLEEN WHITLEY
Imagine an energy source that is clean, silent, aesthetically pleasing, harmless to the environment and actually creates jobs. Imagine an energy source that exists naturally, and can be captured and converted naturally, to provide a considerable amount of our daily energy supply, naturally. Imagine the threat of war over energy power eliminated because the source of the power is renewable and can’t be controlled or hoarded. Imagine the best, brightest, most innovative talents in science, energy, environment and construction collaborating their efforts for a common, greater benefit. Imagine America’s first offshore wind energy farm dotting the horizon off Long Island’s southern shoreline.
The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) has commenced negotiations for a power purchase agreement with recommended developer Florida Power and Light (FPL) Energy to build 40 wind turbines in a cluster design three miles southwest of Robert Moses State Park. This clean and renewable wind farm will be capable of generating approximately 140 megawatts (MW) of electricity for Long Island, which represents about 4% of the daily average peak electric demand on Long Island of 2,928 MW.
The Long Island Offshore Wind Initiative (LIOWI), as the proposed project is known, is comprised of a unique coalition of over 30 local and national environmental, civic, health and faith-based organizations working with LIPA to bring the environmental, economic and public health benefits of wind energy to our region. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Renewable Energy Long Island, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, LI Neighborhood Network, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), and GreenPeace are some of the groups working towards ensuring the broadest public, regulatory and environmental review of the proposed wind energy farm.
LIOWI is a major step forward under LIPA’s Clean Energy Initiative (CEI) focusing on alternative energy resources. One of the most ambitious programs of its kind in the nation, the Initiative is a 10 year, $355 million, 100 to 140 megawatt commitment to promote clean new electric generation technologies on Long Island; designed to increase the proportion of clean, renewable electricity sold to New York consumers by at least 25 percent by 2013.
The key to wind energy is that air has mass, and when it is in motion, it contains the energy of that motion, “kinetic energy”. A wind energy system consists of turbines that capture and convert the kinetic energy of the wind into electrical energy that can be harnessed for practical use. Additionally, wind provides a clean, non-polluting energy resource that is renewable, abundant and free. And while no electricity resource is completely benign, wind power provides an environmentally friendly, sustainable alternative that does not contribute to global warming and climate change. Finally, considering the availability of land to build new electric generation facilities is scarce, the tremendous untapped wind energy resource along the Island’s southern shores is a natural alternative.
Wind energy is the world’s fastest growing energy source—the industry experienced a 500% increase in worldwide wind power development between 1997 and 2003 alone. Wind power is a proven technology and modern wind energy farms have been a part of America’s western landscape, predominately in California, since the early 1970’s. But it is the unprecedented technological advancements in wind turbine design and output that have solidified wind energy’s role as a major renewable energy resource both here and abroad. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) under its Wind Powering America initiative has set targets which designate wind power to provide at least 5% of US electricity demand by 2020 (5,000 MW by 2005, another 10,000 MW by 2010 and 80,000 MW by the year 2020). In Europe, the goals are even more aggressive; the European Wind Energy Association states that 150,000 MW of new wind power is proposed throughout that region by 2012. The United Kingdom alone is staking their claim as the world wind power leader with 4,000 MW of new wind farms proposed by 2010.
The low cost of wind energy also benefits the economy in terms of local jobs and increased tourism. For instance, wind power costs have dropped over 80% in the last three decades, making it cost competitive with traditional fossil fuel power plants. Because the wind is free of cost, it helps reduce risk of fuel price volatility associated with the rising costs of fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. An offshore wind farm the size of LIPA’s proposed project can produce significant energy output with a single project, making it a viable clean energy alternative that establishes LIPA as a national leader in renewable energy technologies. In a time of increased international energy concerns and security issues, renewable energy resources like wind farms can contribute significantly to US energy independence and national energy security. For the end user, this means that expenditures associated with both local and long distance travel are stabilized, whether for work or pleasure.
LIOWI began back in 2002 shortly after LIPA and the New York State Energy Research Development Agency (NYSERDA) sponsored a Phase I Siting Study to evaluate the offshore wind resources on Long Island. The results were staggering: a potential of over 5,000 MW of untapped wind energy from the strong ocean winds along Long Island’s south shore. This represents the equivalent of what LIPA would need to meet peak electricity demand on an extremely hot summer day. In January 2003, LIPA issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a qualified wind developer to design, build, own and operate the offshore wind farm within the boundaries of the 52 square mile recommended siting area between Long Beach (Nassau) and western Fire Island (Suffolk). FPL Energy—the largest developer of land based wind projects in America—was designated the preferred developer as a result of this competitive bidding project.
The proposed offshore wind farm area is approximately 8 nautical square miles in size, and will be located about 3 to 6 miles southwest of Robert Moses State Park near the Fire Island Inlet. The evaluation criteria employed to identify the recommended siting area for this project were both specific and comprehensive. Numerous studies were conducted to reveal a host of marine, environmental, transmission and other considerations necessary for final determination of the ideal wind resource site area.
The Phase II Siting Study conducted a detailed analysis of water depth, wind speeds and migratory flyways prior to its determination for a preferred site area. Offshore wind technology has a maximum water depth of up to 70 feet from the base of the wind turbine to the top of the water’s surface. Because Long Island has excellent shallow water depths, it is an ideal region to site offshore wind turbines up to six miles offshore, greatly reducing the visibility from land. Wind speeds are, of course, also a major factor—the desirable minimum wind speed is 18 miles per hour to generate maximum output from a wind turbine generator. While the ocean winds may not always blow the hardest, they are preferable to on-land winds for their consistency and uninhibited nature. In Europe, where offshore wind farms have been successfully operating for 15 years, biologists have revealed that the foundations of wind turbines not only act as artificial reefs that attract fish, but have given birth to thriving new marine ecosystems on the ocean floor.
Finally, critical attention was given to existing substations in LIPA’s service territory that could accept and distribute 140 megawatts of new power generation to Long Island homes and businesses. At this time, the preferred on-land substation location is the Sterling Substation near the Massapequa Shopping Mall. LIPA will provide the underground transmission cable, however the developer—not LIPA—will construct, own, operate and maintain the 140-megawatt project. In addition, LIPA is currently negotiating a 15 to 20 year contract to purchase all the power produced by the wind farm, directly benefiting Long Islanders with a clean, green renewable energy resource.
The exact design and selection of Long Island’s turbines has not been finalized, but models abound. A typical offshore wind turbine currently produces a maximum of 2 to 4 megawatts of electricity, however the turbines continue to get larger and more efficient every year. To put these numbers into perspective, consider that the Long Island offshore wind farm will produce enough electricity to power 42,000 Long Island homes.
Offshore wind turbines are a monopole design with heights of 200 feet or greater from the surface of the water to the top of the tower. The blades are controlled by a computer system contained in the “Nacelle” which is located at the top of the monopole tower. The Nacelle contains the “brains” of the wind turbine, and each one is monitored by on-land maintenance and operations crews 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As wind technology has improved, the speed of the blades has slowed considerably to a range of 8 to 21 rotations per minute—the larger the wind turbine, the slower the speed. This is good news for birds—in fact, radar studies of European offshore wind farms reveal that birds sense the presence of the turbines approximately 150 yards away and either fly between the rows of turbines or completely around the wind farm altogether.
The turbines are built to withstand hurricane strength winds and the blades will automatically shut down when wind speeds exceed their optimal requirement. In the event of strong winds, the blades will “feather in” away from the wind and come to a complete stop until the computer restarts them under more ideal wind conditions. An offshore substation will be built within the boundaries of the wind farm to provide routine maintenance facilities and serve as the collection point for the individual turbine cables. A single 138 kilovolt cable connecting the turbine cables will be buried a minimum of six feet under the ocean floor prior to making landfall where it will transport the electricity to the designated onshore substation.
Today, there is almost 40,000 megawatts of wind power around the world, with Europe leading the way in offshore wind technology. That is enough electricity to power 10 million households in the United States. Germany, the world leader, currently produces approximately 15,000 megawatts alone, with Denmark and Spain not far behind. But the entire United States produces only 6,400 megawatts of wind power—and all of that is land-based.
The Long Island Offshore Wind Initiative may very well be the first offshore wind energy farm ever built in America, leading the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. As Long Island’s energy demands continue to grow, securing alternative, clean and desirable sources of energy will help the transition towards an energy future free of fossil fuels that will enhance public health and the environment for generations to come. Imagine.
Kathleen A. Whitley is a Program Manager for LIOWI and is a Senior Consultant withf Applied Energy Group, Inc.. For more information visit www.lioffshorewindenergy.org, www.AppliedEnergyGroup.com, or call Kathleen at (631) 434-1414, ext. 19 (firstname.lastname@example.org).