Over 100 of Long Island’s environmental and business leaders gathered at the Offshore Wind 2012 Forum at the Long Island Association on Tuesday, July 31.  There are two offshore wind projects being considered for the waters off of Long Island.  One is a 700 megawatt joint venture between LIPA and Con Ed, and the other is Deepwater Wind’s  900 watt wind farm which would be built 30 miles east of Montauk.

“Long Island is blessed with an abundant clean energy source right here in the offshore waters of the Atlantic ocean,” said Gordian Raacke, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Long Island, a regional not-for-profit organization.  “Developing offshore wind power will not only give Long Island renewable energy but also cleaner air, a stronger economy, and much needed jobs.”  He went on to explain that wind development offshore would be advantageous since the population centers of the Unites States are for the most part clustered on the coast.  The northeast has strong offshore winds, and Long Island has relatively shallow ocean depths to site turbines.  The state of the art in building turbines has advanced and they can be placed in deeper waters.  By placing the turbines farther off shore, objections regarding the visual impact of the structures can be minimized.

Concerns regarding the impact of the turbines on bird migrations were raised.  Bill Moore of Deepwater Wind, the development proposed for east of Montauk said they are conducting avian studies, which show that the migratory flyway is not as far offshore as thought, and that shorebirds seem to stay closer to shore.  Further studies will be conducted.  The new turbines spin more slowly than older turbines, and are expected to have less of an impact on birds.  Some mortality will result no matter what.

Katherine Bose of the National Wildlife Federation said that climate change and ocean acidification are the greatest threats to wildlife today, and that the Federation supports wind energy.   It is estimated that 14.5 million birds are killed each year by pollution impacts.  Resource extraction impacts, such as oil spills, mountaintop destruction for coal mining, damage from fracking, coal ash floods like the one which recently occurred in Tennessee, all have terrible impacts on wildlife.

Wind farms are widely used in Europe, and have been in usage there since 1991.  The Danish island of Samso (coincidentally the island where my husband’s grandmother lived) is using 100% renewable energy sources, and generates more energy than it needs.  Any energy source, whether fossil fuel, nuclear, or wind, have environmental impacts.  It is necessary to choose one with the least impact.  To do nothing is not an option.

Many of the speakers stressed not only the environmental benefits, but also the economic benefits.  LIPA spends $1.7 billion annually on imported fuel and power, which would then stay on Long Island.  Construction and engineering jobs would be created to design, build and maintain the turbines.  Wind energy costs, as opposed to oil and gas, would be stable.

There are challenges, the cost to build the turbines are high, and the siting of the projects will no doubt be  a matter of debate.  However, as Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said “We’re at a crossroads here. New York and Long Island are making critical energy decisions.   What will we choose? What will be our future energy on Long Island? We’re making those decisions now.”