Newsday: Brookhaven to get bulk of $169M deal for hosting wind farm cable

Originally published on Newsday 

Brookhaven Town will receive the lion's share of a recently inked $168.9 million benefit package from the developers of an offshore wind farm with a power cable that will make landfall at Smith Point and connect to the Long Island electric grid at Holbrook.

A self-elevating barge off Smith Point, as seen from Moriches Inlet, conducting sea-floor survey work for the Sunrise Wind farm on Nov. 29, 2020. Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington
Most of the payments, $135.95 million, will be made in 25 "impact fees" of $5 million to $6 million a year once the project starts producing power, which is anticipated in 2025. The package also includes $28 million in payments in lieu of taxes for “financial assistance” and another $3 million in a "parks payment" for the improvement of town-owned parkland and open space. There also will be a “hamlet” payment totaling $2 million to be used for ambulance and public health services.

Of the $168.9 million, about $130 million will go to the Town of Brookhaven, while Suffolk County and school districts will share in the balance, said Ed Romaine, the Brookhaven supervisor who has championed hosting the 17.5-mile cable project in the town since 2019.

"This is huge for us," Romaine said, noting the revenue will have a "stabilizing effect on our property taxes," while the project will "provide lasting employment for the county and put dollars into the local economy."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in a prepared statement called offshore wind "our nation’s clean energy future" and pointed to the "considerable benefits of this project, including hundreds of union jobs."

He said he was "proud to have worked with Supervisor Romaine on a Host Community Agreement that will generate millions of dollars in funding for important community projects including expanding sewers in the Forge River watershed.”

A spokeswoman for Sunrise Wind didn't provide a comment.


I look at this and I know it's the future

Ed Romaine - Brookhaven Town Supervisor

More than $90 million in tax breaks
Earlier this month, Sunrise Wind and Brookhaven's Industrial Development Agency announced an agreement for the town to provide more than $90 million in tax breaks for cable construction and an operations center in East Setauket. The package includes a tax break of up to $24 million on the purchase of construction materials and equipment and $63 million in property-tax savings during operation of the wind farm. Sunrise Wind in return plans to spend nearly $500 million on the project and employ more than 2,200 construction workers.

The Sunrise Wind project, a $4.2 billion initiative being developed by Orsted of Denmark and Eversource, the New England utility, is expected to bring 924 megawatts of offshore wind power to Long Island as part of a state- and LIPA-managed plan to transition from mostly natural-gas burning plants to green energy by 2035. The project is expected to produce enough energy to power around 600,000 homes, the developers say, which amounts to around half of LIPA's 1.2 million customer base.

"I look at this and I know it's the future," said Romaine, a Republican who is running for Suffolk County executive and has long supported green energy. "This is the best alternative we have" to carbon-emitting fossil-fuel plants, he said.

Brookhaven's host-community benefits package would be among the largest of those negotiated thus far by wind-farm developers and other municipalities for the right to use town roads and other parcels to run power cables. In East Hampton, for instance, the same developers paid $29 million to run a 4.1-mile cable from its landing in Wainscott to a substation in the town. That project, also being developed by Orsted and Eversource, is for a much smaller 130-watt wind farm.

Sunrise Wind turbines to be more than 50 miles from landfall
Sunrise Wind's array of up to 100 turbines off the Massachusetts/Rhode Island coast will be more than 50 miles from the landfall at Smith Point. From the beach, the 17.5-mile route will run chiefly along William Floyd Parkway and the Long Island Expressway, before reaching a LIPA substation in Holtsville. Some parkland at Smith Point was alienated to pave way for the project.

In return for the payments, Brookhaven will grant all needed licenses rights and easements to construct, operate and maintain the cable on town roads and rights of way. Brookhaven “will use its continuous best efforts to expedite, convey, grant and approve” any and all town and government approvals, including all permits for wetlands, tree removal, demolition and land use, the agreement states.

The agreement also calls for the town to acquire any privately held parcels through condemnation, if needed, required by the project.

Payments are scheduled to start as soon as this year, with $1 million in parks capital and another next year, according to a schedule of payments. By 2025, an annual host community payment of $6 million begins, along with $1.12 million in PILOTs, which stay the same over the 25 years. The host community package eventually reduces to $5 million a year by 2049.

Romaine has eased the agreement through negotiation and public hearings with a minimum of the rancor that has characterized other projects. "We talked to people, we have good relationships" with those along the path of the project, he said. "They understand the benefit."

By contrast, some residents of Wainscott still oppose South Fork Wind's cable project along Beach Lane in East Hampton, where some as recently as last week sought to highlight their concerns about toxins in the soil along the cable route. Orsted has been working to bring the offshore cable onto land in recent days, but has been hampered by weather and the temporary loss of a messenger cable that was to bring the Long Island end to land. A new messenger cable was installed last week and the cable could be brought to the beach connection this week, Orsted officials said.

Concerns raised by Long Beach residents
Separately this month, some residents of Long Beach expressed a range of concerns during a city council meeting over a separate project by Equinor to land a cable in that city, according to a report in the Long Beach Herald. A Long Beach official didn't return a call seeking comment.

Equinor spokeswoman Lauren Shane, in a statement, said, "We appreciate hearing from supporters of offshore wind, as well as understanding concerns and sometimes misconceptions about an industry that’s still relatively new to the U.S. We look forward to continuing this important dialogue as we bring this new, long-term source of renewable energy to fruition for New York.

But it's not just cables that are causing rancor. Many fishing groups remain opposed to offshore wind plans, some conservation groups have expressed concerns about recent whale deaths in the region, and native tribes are asking for equal footing in scrutinizing and approving the projects.

Earlier this year, the United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, an intertribal Native American organization composed of 33 federally recognized tribal nations, called on the Biden administration to put a moratorium on offshore wind permitting until they can be assured the process protects tribal environmental, cultural and sovereign interests.

“The tribes have been left out,” said Lance Gumbs, vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, where he also serves as tribal ambassador of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. He's calling for the federal agencies overseeing the process to include native tribes in "meaningful consultations" on wind-farm leasing and plans. "We've been left out of the funding process," he added.



By Mark Harrington
Mark Harrington, a Newsday reporter since 1999, covers energy, wineries, Indian affairs and fisheries.