Dan Rattiner's Stories

Sizzle, Sizzle Pop: Where Should Montauk Build an Electric Substation?

A look at growing wind power plans and the situation at The End.

A very small number of people on the East End prefer getting their power from fossil fuels. It causes pollution and global warming. Most of us would prefer that we got it from an environmentally clean source, such as solar or wind. To that end, our local officials want to see to it that everyone who wants to speak on new proposals gets to be heard, and that whatever these proposals are get thrashed out to conclude if the solutions are workable. If something happens and the electricity goes out, we want it to go out sizzle, sizzle, POP! Not sizzle, sizzle ka-BOOM! That’s the crux of the matter.

A case in point is the wind farm project proposed to be built about 35 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. The proposal came from Deepwater Wind, an American company. It successfully installed five windmills off Block Island two years ago, so Block Island gets its power from the wind now. Here in the Hamptons, they want to build a field of 15 windmills way off shore. You won’t even see them. They will be over the horizon, because of the curvature of the earth. But they will provide all the power we need here in the Hamptons—up to 50,000 homes, that plan said.

A cable from the windmill farm has to go underwater to land and then to a substation. The nearest, biggest substation is in East Hampton by the railroad station. The nearest public site to come ashore, underwater to underground, is at Wainscott, just to the west of Georgica Pond.

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With that moving pretty far along, Deepwater Wind announced last fall that they were being purchased—I prefer to say swallowed up—by a large international firm from Denmark known as Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind. There would be a new plan. The amount of power coming from the windmills would be increased by nearly half, because they would use taller, newer and stronger windmills.

And that change is what the public came to believe was the reason why Fred Thiele, our local State Assemblyman, went from in favor of all this to opposed to all this. At least that is how the media reported it. But Thiele told me he has not withdrawn his support because he opposes wind farm power. He is a staunch supporter of environmentally positive solutions, but in this case he opposes it because, he said, Orsted has set up roadblocks that prevent him from doing his job to help his constituents learn more about this larger project.

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

Thiele told me he asked to see the expanded proposal, but that they told him he could not see it and that state law makes it confidential. He’s told them this is a misreading of the law. What they seemed to think is the law expires when the preliminary proposals are all in, and the preliminary proposals are all in. And he ought to know the law, because he is in the State Legislature that makes the laws. He communicated that information to them, and with three months gone by without a response or the information, he withdrew his support.

As a result, Orsted is now all over Fred Thiele, anxious to take a meeting with him, make amends, give him what he needs and hope for his support. They wrote him a long letter to that effect. That’s better, his office has said. So we shall see what we shall see.

Now, suddenly, more than a dozen domestic and international wind farm firms are applying for leases out in the Atlantic.

***

More trouble. Meanwhile, in Montauk, there’s a situation about electric power. There is a power substation in Montauk. It is on Industrial Road, built there around 1925, when serious power came to town. They couldn’t have built it there today, however, for a whole bunch of reasons. Industrial Road is only one or two feet above sea level. It was built right on the shore of Fort Pond, where paddle boats and sailboats roam in the summertime. It also cuts through fragile wetlands. Geese and ducks abound. There are osprey and eagles. In today’s climate-change environment, where flooding is getting more common, the sooner this power station gets to be moved, the better.

It needs to be on higher ground and not in wetlands. And it has to be able to expand as future power needs expand, receiving what will likely be the new energy from the offshore wind power. But, like the windmill project, whatever it is needs to still go sizzle, sizzle, POP! when it goes out, not sizzle sizzle ka-BOOM!

Hearings have been held about where this Montauk substation should be moved. There have been three proposals.

An obvious spot is up on the Montauk Highway, up a narrow road that goes to what used to be the Montauk Dump but is now the Montauk Transfer Station. It would make perfect sense there, high up within the loving confines of deep forest, but the power company PSEG Long Island has rejected it, saying it is too far from where the power is needed, which is mostly in downtown.

Besides, I imagine a thick cable to downtown could go sizzle, sizzle ka-BOOM! at some point, so forget it.

A second proposal is 50 feet up atop a hill just off Flamingo Road, between the Montauk Water Tower and Montauk Manor. There are six acres of vacant land up there on a residential street, where houses are nearby in either direction and water is fed into the water tower from underground streams. So that seems like a bad idea, too.

Another consideration is that the new power station, wherever it is built, will hum. I’ve seen the specifications. It will make a humming sound sometime between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. but it wouldn’t be too loud and it will only hum when power is being shuffled in or going out, which happens only briefly a couple of times a day. The neighbors and the birds and the bees could get used to it, or so the report says.

Ralph Macchio
Ralph Macchio, Photo: Barbara Lassen

PSEG Long Island, by the way, has already moved along in the process. Locals say they have heard—although they did not name a source—that the power company has contacted the present owners, trying to buy these six Flamingo Road acres for $6 million, according to The Southampton Press. The acreage is owned by LLCs, the Press says, connected to the parents of actor Ralph Macchio, who starred in the movie The Karate Kid (when he was a kid), and then eight years later as one of the two young men falsely accused of killing someone during a botched convenience store robbery in Alabama, in the film My Cousin Vinny.

That was a great movie. It starred Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei. Macchio has had a house out in Montauk for decades. More power to him. No, I shouldn’t have said that.

But I digress.

Well, this spot is also not appealing to some 2,500 Montauk residents, it seems. It’s a sizzle sizzle ka-BOOM project, many fear. It is a residentially zoned area. It would be visible from the nearby Montauk Manor. There may be remains of Montauk Indians buried there. And some people are concerned about whether it could compromise the drinking water.

Then there is a third site. It is on North Shore Road, which is an old, unpaved rumrunner road up through the woods to Montauk’s highest point, north of Ruschmeyer’s and near to the railroad tracks. It already has a battery-operating station on it—a place where the overflow on occasion from Industrial Road can be backed up for a short time. It’s not far from Industrial Road, and, perhaps best of all, the battery station has a view from 20 feet up—they built it up 20 feet—of Fort Pond Bay. At certain times of the year, the sun sets over that. Surely the substation could be built up there alongside.

Well, here is a fourth idea. Put the substation on the roof of the penthouse capping the seven-story residential tower standing in the field in the very center of downtown Montauk. It’s way above high water. And if a bad time comes, people can look up and watch it go sizzle, sizzle, pop, KABOOM, WHOOMMMM way up there. Fourth of July Roman candle. Then dark.

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