Windmills in the Ocean and the Hamptons May Answer Energy Problems

Wind Turbines out to sea
Wind Turbines out to sea, Photo: Svetlana Tebenkova/iStock/Thinkstock

You may not know this, but about 20 miles off Montauk, just south of Block Island, there are five steel windmills under construction that will soon rise hundreds of feet above the ocean’s surface to start spinning away converting the wind into power.

You won’t see these windmills from Montauk, but you will see them from Block Island. Block Island is one of the windiest places in America, and Block Islanders often proudly tell you to hang onto your hat because of that, so for them to see the windmills offshore spinning away is a matter of pride.

Last month, however, the private power company constructing these windmills applied to build 35 more windmills in the ocean in order to provide power, this time to Long Island from a cable coming under the ocean to attach to a power station here. Don’t get all excited about hearing this. God forbid there should be any windmill paddles spinning away 600 feet up and visible at the horizon off Montauk’s pristine beaches. The 35 additional windmills are to be located 16 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, further from Montauk.

Did I just hear a very soft “hooray!” Yes?

Fact is that we have a simply terrible record about wind power. We all declare ourselves in favor of alternative energy, be it solar, wind or wave power. But when a farm of windmills all in a row sitting on the ocean floor was proposed off Jones Beach a few years ago, the citizenry sounded the alarm and opposition groups formed whose members quickly contacted their congressmen. Fish would accidentally bump into the underground legs of the windmills. Freighters would crash into them, founder, capsize and sink, sending hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of, for example, naked Barbie Dolls bobbing onto our beaches. The windmill people slunk away.

Still other proposals for ocean windmill farms that might have been in Long Island Sound or off Southampton were floated and sent up the flagpole to see if anyone would salute, but all of those were shot down.

The real scandal, however, is that for more than 300 years, we have actually had windmills here in the Hamptons and, in spite of enormous sums of money spent, not a single one of them has ever provided even one single watt of power.

All together we have 11 of them. We have the largest collection of wooden windmills in the United States right here in the Hamptons. We have one on Gardiner’s Island, four in East Hampton, one in Amagansett, one in Bridgehampton, one in Southampton, one on Shelter Island, one in Wainscott, and one in Water Mill, all of them built between 1770 and 1830, a half-century span when the residents here, on the very leading edge of environmental awareness, did their best to make a situation where the energy they consumed equaled the energy produced. Their desire was to harness the wind and create no environmental damage whatsoever, instead of what they correctly felt was the wasteful consumption of consumables such as, over the years, whale blubber, kerosene, wood fires, coal, oil, shale and natural gas, which, as we know, pollute the planet.

Granted, the windmill efforts made during that 60-year period (known today as the East End Spring—like the Arab Spring) were not very effective. But what could you expect? This was long before the invention of the telephone, the light bulb, the automobile, washing machine, airplane, hula-hoop or the internet.

These early experimental efforts did leave us with a legacy, though. All these windmills still stand. It had been the hope, those early pioneers felt, that improvements in the efficiency of these windmills would one day bring a time when all energy problems would be solved with the engines of our wind power and the improvements made could be given away and duplicated elsewhere around the country.

But that did not happen. Over the past 200 years, our governments—village, town, county, state and federal—have poured thousands of dollars, even millions and billions and trillions of untold dollars, to restore, rebuild and improve these windmills so they can do the job. But it has all been just a complete waste of money.

Two years ago, East Hampton Village spent nearly a $100,000 to get the Hook Mill on the Town Green to turn out power. Before that, tens of thousands of dollars were spent in Bridgehampton trying to get the Beebe Mill to produce power. But no. It was a complete waste of money. It’s a scandal.

Who benefits from these clumsy and futile attempts to get these beautiful windmills operational? It’s been said that the tourists like to take pictures of them, sitting there still and inert and doing nothing, so that is good for the economy. But when more of these tourists come out to take these pictures, burning gasoline in their cars, oil and natural gas in their homes and coal in their office buildings, it just adds to the environmental pickle we find ourselves in today.

Why have we not hired scientists and engineers to guide this work, to apply their inventiveness and new ideas to the task at hand? We haven’t done that. Instead, in every case, we hire “restorers” who haven’t a clue on how to make these things work. All they know to do is how to get the windmills repaired to the way they were before when they didn’t work. What an utter waste of time and money.

It might have been money well spent if these funds had been used to at least attempt to provide new experimental ways to harness the wind. I read in The New York Times recently that one scientific group somewhere in the country is sending up giant weather balloons with paddles on them, held fast to the ground with long ropes, so the wind can turn the paddle blades way up there to create the power.

It’s time to put an end to this scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money here on the East End. I’m told that, as another poke in the eye, much of this money is spent to accomplish nothing more than to grind down an occasional husk of corn into flour so the workmen can sit around, snack and drink on their frequent coffee breaks, lunch hours and poker sessions while on the job.

We’ve landed on the moon, built bridges across the Hudson River, gotten airplanes to fly 2,000 miles an hour, created iPhones and television and atomic bombs, and not one single kilowatt of energy in all this time from our windmills.

It’s long past time to begin investigating the wasteful bureaucratic mess that has spawned this two-century-long boondoggle and put an end to it once and for all.

Remember, you read it first in Dan’s Papers.

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