More than 200 people listened in on a virtual meeting of the New York Public Service Commission on March 9 focusing on Equinor’s proposed South Shore wind farm and substation, and dozens of residents of Island Park, Oceanside and Long Beach voiced their opinions about the project. Equinor, an energy company based in Norway, plans to partner with BP, a British oil and gas company, to help New York state realize its goal of producing at least 10 gigawatts of offshore wind-powered energy by 2035, and those plans have been a local hot topic of late.
The session started with Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford telling the commission that although Equinor submitted plans for the wind farm and substation years ago, the public is only now becoming aware of the project and its impact. That impact, Ford said has not been made clear, although she thanked Equinor for hosting an information session last year. Ford emphasized that she supports green energy, but said that more needs to be done in the way of environmental research.
Ford asked for studies to determine the impact of the high-voltage cables that, if approved, would come ashore in Long Beach at Riverside Boulevard be routed to a substation, not yet constructed, on Railroad Place in Island Park. The substation would replace a popular restaurant and the only marina in Island Park. From there the lines would run north, parallel to the Long Island Rail Road tracks, to the E.F. Barrett Power Plant and connect into the power grid.
Vincent Randazzo, Island Park’s superintendent of schools, said he was very familiar with the history of the plant, and with feeling “slighted” by a public utility. Randazzo worries that history will repeat itself, he told the commission judges, explaining how a tax settlement between the Long Island Power Authority and Nassau County, which over the next five years will drastically reduce the property taxes LIPA will pay on its E.F. Barrett Power Plant, will leave homeowners to make up the difference.
He asked the Equinor be made to work together with the community. “The Island Park Union Free School District intends to conduct a thorough analysis of the developer’s gross annual revenue from this project and the percentage of total project costs to achieve the best outcome for our taxpayers, our schools and the community,” Randazzo said.
Island Park bayman Chris Fabris said that he — and other residents — are reaching their breaking point at the thought of the community not being listened to and forced into a situation they’re not happy with. “We endured LIPA,” Fabris said. “We endured the pump-out station that pumped treatment sewage into our bays, where our beaches are sometimes shut down often because of rain … Having another obstruction that we don’t know the long-term benefits and hurting our real estate value is the breaking point.”
Fabris said his family has seen Island Park be an environmental dumping ground since his grandparents arrived in 1939. “You need to deeply consider putting the substation in another area,” he pleaded to the commission — or at least “give space back to the community,” since he estimated that about 150 marina dock slips will be replaced by the substation.
Long Beach City Council President John Bendo, an engineer in the power industry for 30 years, said the substation would go against local interests, and that the council was asking for local control of cable routes through the densely populated barrier island.
“The message that’s being conveyed is, rather than deal with red tape with government agencies — and I’m speaking as a government agency,” Bendo said, “it’s easier to deal with, quite frankly, the angry mob. That their ire is the path of least resistance compared to the red tape.” He also said that Equinor should be required to make public all of the potential effects of its project to quell residents’ fears.
U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, who is from Island Park, offered a statement about the development, writing that he has serious concerns about the environmental impact of Equinor’s project. He wrote that he is “currently working to promote broader federal oversight of Equinor’s local environmental footprint, as well as bolster transparency with regard to the company’s offshore developments and their potential effects on coastal habitats. I also look forward to participating in upcoming congressional hearings pertaining to this topic.”
But not everyone who took part in the meeting was opposed to the wind farm. Numerous local unions and organizations spoke in favor of moving the development quickly, to fight the climate crisis. Douglas Schmid spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club, as the executive committee member of Long Island chapter.
“We are supportive of the Empire Wind 2 project and urge the state to grant the … permit,” Schmid told the commission. “The climate crisis requires an urgent transition to renewable energy. Offshore wind supplying Long Island is essential for us to make that transition to clean energy.” He also made it clear to those listening that there is no evidence that offshore wind turbines affect marine mammal mortality, but that the climate crisis does.
Marj Issapour, a professor at Farmingdale State College and the former director of the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Center also urged the project to move forward. “It is an urgent situation right now,” she said of climate change. “We no longer have the luxury of waiting and looking and observing, Europe is ahead of us.”
“It’s always important to hear from members of the public,” an Equinor spokesperson wrote to the Herald in an email after the hearing. “because their participation is important in order for projects like ours to succeed. We’re not just building these projects in the community, we’re building them with the community.”
The spokesperson said it was encouraging to hear so many voices of support from community members who have fought to bring the offshore wind industry to Long Island, adding, “It’s also a great opportunity for us to hear people’s concerns and misconceptions about offshore wind so that we can show how we are working to responsibly develop an industry that’s still relatively new to the U.S.”
The spokesperson concluded that the company is committed to building Empire Wind 2 responsibly and transparently, and will continue to regularly engage with the community, and make certain that residents learn about the clean power and the economic benefits it will bring.