Monday, July 17, 2006

A Wind Storm Over Turbines

From The Editorial Board At Newsday, Cooling Breeze or Ill Wind On LI Wind Farm?

The 4.5% solution
Costs and benefits need weighing for LIPA's proposed windmill farm

A very important process began this week on Long Island: the nation's first attempt to devise guidelines for leasing part of the ocean to those who want to harness the wind. Department of the Interior officials came here for two "scoping" sessions to learn the public's concerns about the Long Island Power Authority's application to place giant wind generators off Jones Beach.

Supporters and opponents want the federal agency to study the project's environmental consequences, its safety, the reliability of the nascent technology to be used and, most important, how much it will cost. These findings will answer the critical question: Is this experiment to provide 140 megawatts of alternative energy - about 4.5 percent of the average peak demand - worth the risk of damaging the beaches that define Long Island?

Whether, at the end of what is likely a two-year process, the Minerals Management Service will recommend a lease for LIPA is uncertain. What must be certain, however, is that this precedent-setting regulatory review be comprehensive and transparent, and that the policy debate about it remain informed and honest.

That can start with LIPA chairman Richard Kessel, who risks insulting all Long Islanders when he frames the choice in stark cartoonish terms: Take the wind project or risk the nation's security; all opponents are selfish NIMBYs who live near Babylon and Massapequa. Kessel asked the federal agency to hold hearings on the North Shore. Does he presume residents there are less concerned about ocean views, the environment, the navigational safety of ships and planes, or whether this is a sensible investment?

The concerned citizens at the sessions on Monday and Tuesday had a more sophisticated take on this very difficult choice. Those concerned about the planet - about global warming, dirty air and a dependency on foreign oil - seem to be on both sides. Migrating to renewable wind power is a worthy goal that has few dissenters. But this debate is also about a specific place on the planet - Long Island, which has jealously protected its water, birds, fish and shoreline. The turbines would be placed about 3.6 miles offshore, and with their rotors would rise 440 feet above the Atlantic - visible from land, although how much so is disputed. The Jones Beach water tower, for now the icon of our shoreline, stands at 200 feet.

Soon LIPA will finalize its contract with FPL Energy, which would build and operate the wind facility. That's when we will know how much exposure LIPA will assume in a project already estimated at $400 million. That will be a start toward weighing its real costs.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

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