Aging Energy Infrastructure

Guestwords in the East Hampton Star

By David Posnett March 17, 2021

On the South Fork of Long Island, we all know about yearly brownouts during peak demand for power in the summer. Indeed, energy demand on the South Fork is growing at almost twice the rate of the rest of Long Island.

And now we have witnessed the power outages in Texas during freezing weather. With decades of neglect of their power grids, refusal to update the necessary infrastructure, and an ill-advised policy of not building connections with out-of-state grids, many lives were lost and the economic fallout is still unknown.

Locally, two major blackouts in 1965 and 1977 paralyzed New York City and exposed the vulnerability of the power grid. The full story can be read by Googling “Gaslights to Generators,” a September 2002 article on New York City’s energy history by Meryl Feiner.

Long Island is in a precarious situation in terms of meeting growing energy demands. Historically the Island has not produced sufficient energy, and thus it imports energy from elsewhere. But with solar and now wind energy sources, this is about to change. There are plans for 4,000 megawatts from wind farms off Long Island shores and 130 megawatts from the South Fork Wind farm, the project that is furthest along.

An interesting article in Newsday by Mark Harrington, updated on Feb. 24, discusses a NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) report on the required updates to the grid and the infrastructure required to manage the massive new clean energy sources being planned. Harrington quotes Tom Falcone, chief executive of the Long Island Power Authority, saying, “As you put more and more offshore wind onto the grid, think of it as water pipe. At some point you reach the limit, so in order to have more offshore wind you have to upgrade the pipe.”

If we do nothing, the report indicates, there would be a need for “curtailments,” or intentional power outages.

The total cost of the required infrastructure updates would be about $1.5 billion. The upgrades include building a 345,000-volt circuit from LIPA’s newly built Shore Road substation in Glenwood Landing to the substation in Melville, an upgrade of the South Shore transmission grid (already in process), conversion of an existing 138,000-volt transmission line in Levittown to 345,000 volts, a new interconnection line between the LIPA and Con Edison systems, solar power upgrades of various substations, and improvements that are either already part of LIPA’s capital budget or have already begun, such as upgrading transformers and switching gear and substations to higher voltages.

A full list of LIPA’s transmission system and distribution system projects was presented on Feb. 24 at the LIPA trustee meeting. The slide deck can be found at

I asked some experts the following question: Would these grid upgrades also be required if the source of the required extra energy were solely fossil fuel generated, and to what extent are the costs a result of converting to clean energy?

“It is clear that we need to increase the capacity and resilience of the Long Island grid, so let’s get to work on the immediate upgrades and retrofits necessary within the current infrastructure,” said Mariah Dignan of Climate Jobs NY and the Climate Jobs NY Education Fund. “But as we begin to realize the clean energy economy, we will need bulk power transmission and distribution voltage upgrades over the next decade to handle offshore wind generation, increased electrification, and a better flow of renewables from upstate to downstate and vice versa. These investments will pay off for decades to come, and labor is fighting to ensure this transformation creates good union jobs and protects Long Island ratepayers.”

Gordian Raacke, the executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, said that if the same amount of capacity would be interconnected at the same locations, similar grid upgrades and costs would be needed for fossil fuel versus renewable energy. But it is also fair to say that fossil fuel generation could be located in other parts of the state, while offshore wind resources would have to be interconnected along the shore.

In addition, he said, there are several misunderstandings that need to be cleared up. First, the potential transmission and distribution upgrades are not associated with the South Fork Wind farm but with all of the offshore wind farms that would be connected to the Long Island grid, as well as the interconnection of distributed solar and energy storage projects. These costs would not be borne exclusively by Long Island ratepayers but shared across New York State. These are potential projects identified in studies and proposed for study. LIPA does not believe that all of these “possible transmission projects” will be built. And last, most of the transmission projects would not be needed until 2025 through 2035.

Gordian has often reminded us, from the beginning, that the energy infrastructure must be renewed or replaced regardless of wind farms. This is a really costly undertaking, and it’s terrific that PSEG is proposing to make it a state­wide charge to ratepayers.

Take-aways from the new LIPA Fact Sheet

For what it’s worth, here are my main take-aways from the new LIPA Fact Sheet (attached below with highlights added) on the South Fork Wind Farm:

1.       South Fork Wind Farm was the least cost solution to meet increasing electric demand on the South Fork and New York’s renewable energy mandates.

2.       LIPA’s share of New York State’s 9,000 MW offshore wind target is over 1,000 MW and SF Wind Farm is the first of many projects to meet the Long Island goal.

3.       The South Fork RFP Portfolio (Wind+Storage+Demand Response) will cost the average residential customer on LI between $1.39 and $1.57 per month.

4.       The price LIPA pays for the 90 MW SFWF starts at 16 c/kWh; the price for the additional 40 MW (contracted in Nov. ’18) starts at 8.6 c/kWh (this additional energy was the lowest cost renewable energy ever on LI at the time). The combined cost for the 130 MW would be about 13.7c/kWh in the first year. Prices escalate at an average 2% per year for 20 years. 

5.       Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) over 20 years for the combined 130 MW SFWF is 14.1¢/kwh (in 2018 dollars, using a 6.5% discount rate). Cost of other planned projects in the region are projected to be significantly lower but an ‘apple-to-apple’ comparison is difficult because these projects are much larger and benefit from economies of scale. They were also selected later and thus benefitted from lower industry price levels. 

6.       Prices for offshore wind power have declined rapidly in Europe due to increased investment and improving technology and we are now seeing price declines in the emerging U.S. offshore wind industry.

7.       LIPA’s future offshore wind purchases will total over 800 MW, and will cost less as a result of expected price decreases. LIPA will also buy an estimated 90 MW of offshore wind from the recently announced 1,700 MW of New York State projects (by NYSERDA).

8.       As a result of procuring offshore wind power spread out over many years (a decade or so) as prices decline, LIPA’s overall offshore wind portfolio cost will be minimized.

9.       When comparing costs of renewable energy to conventional sources we also need to account for costs which are typically not accounted for such as the cost of air pollution, climate, unknown fuel price risk, etc.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that all this demonstrates that the South Fork Wind Farm not only provides us with local, renewable and reliable power but does so at an affordable price. And over time we will get more and more offshore wind power at even lower prices. This will result in a very affordable average bill impact and could even provide significant savings over fossil fueled power if natural gas prices turn out to be higher than currently forecast.

I’m attaching a marked-up version of the LIPA Fact Sheet where I highlighted sections discussing some of the above points in context.

Best, Gordian Raacke, Executive Director

Renewable Energy Long Island

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Grand challenges in the science of wind energy

This review Appeared in the Journal “Science”, one of the premier Journals in the world.

Authored by Paul Veers1,*, and 28 other scientists.  Science  25 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6464, eaau2027
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau2027

I have copied the abstract and tried to sum up the salient points. Basically, the success of Wind (and Solar) energy, and the predicted growth of the industry, has led to new challenges. Innovations are needed to handle the predicted future demand for clean energy.


Harvested by advanced technical systems honed over decades of research and development, wind energy has become a mainstream energy resource. However, continued innovation is needed to realize the potential of wind to serve the global demand for clean energy. Here, we outline three interdependent, cross-disciplinary grand challenges underpinning this research endeavor. The first is the need for a deeper understanding of the physics of atmospheric flow in the critical zone of plant operation. The second involves science and engineering of the largest dynamic, rotating machines in the world. The third encompasses optimization and control of fleets of wind plants working synergistically within the electricity grid. Addressing these challenges could enable wind power to provide as much as half of our global electricity needs and perhaps beyond.


Abundant, affordable energy in many forms has enabled notable human achievements, including modern food and transportation infrastructure. Broad-based access to affordable and clean energy will be critical to future human achievements and an elevated global standard of living. However, by 2050, the global population will reach an estimated 9.8 billion, up from ~7.6 billion in 2017 (1). Moreover, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates suggest that annual global electricity demand could exceed 38,000 terawatt-hours per year by 2050, up from ~25,000 terawatt-hours in 2017 (2). The demand for low- or no-carbon technologies for electricity is increasing, as is the need for electrifying other energy sectors, such as heating and cooling and transport (24). As a result of these two partially coupled megatrends, additional sources of low-cost, clean energy are experiencing increasing demand around the globe. With a broadly available resource and zero-cost fuel, as well as exceptionally low life-cycle pollutant emissions, wind energy has the potential to be a primary contributor to the growing clean energy needs of the global community.

During the past decade, the cost of three major electricity sources—wind power, solar power, and natural gas—has decreased substantially. Wind and solar are attractive because their low life-cycle emissions offer public health and broader environmental benefits. Leading energy forecasters such as consultancies, nongovernmental organizations, and major energy companies—and specifically BNEF, DNV GL, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and BP—anticipate continued price parity among all of these sources, which will likely result in combined wind and solar supplying between one- and two-thirds of the total electricity demand and wind-only shares accounting for one-quarter to one-third across the globe by 2050 (36). Tapping the potential terawatts of wind energy that could drive the economic realization of these forecasts and subsequently moving from hundreds of terawatt-hours per year to petawatt-hours per year from wind and solar resources could provide an array of further economic and environmental benefits to both local and global communities.

From a business perspective, at just over 51 gigawatts of new wind installations in 2018 (7) and more than half a terawatt of operating capacity, the global investment in wind energy is now ~$100 billion (U.S. dollars) per annum. The energy consultant DNV GL predicts that wind energy demand and the scale of deployment will grow by a factor of 10 by 2050, bringing the industry to the trillion-dollar scale (6) and positioning wind as one of the primary sources of the world’s electricity generation.

However, to remain economically attractive for investors and consumers, the cost of energy from wind must continue to decrease (8, 9). Moreover, as deployment of variable-output wind and solar generation infrastructure increases, new challenges surface related to the adequacy of generation capacity on a long-term basis and short-term balancing of the systems—both of which are critical to maintaining future grid system stability and reliability (1012).

A future in which wind energy contributes one-third to more than one-half of consumed electricity, and in which local levels of wind-derived power may exceed 100% of local demand, will require a paradigm shift in how we think about, develop, and manage the electric grid system (1014). The associated transformation of the power system in high-renewables scenarios will require simultaneous management of large quantities of weather-driven, variable-output generation as well as evolving and dynamic consumption patterns.

A key aspect of this future system is the availability of large quantities of near-zero marginal cost energy, albeit with uncertain timing. With abundant near-zero marginal cost energy, more flexibility in the overall electricity system will allow many different end users to access these “cheap” energy resources. Potential use cases for this energy could entail charging a large number of electric vehicles, providing inexpensive storage at different system sizes (consumer to industrial) and time scales (days to months), or channeling into chemicals or other manufactured products (sometimes referred to as “power-to-X” applications).

A second key aspect of this future system is the transition from an electric grid system centered on traditional synchronous generation power plants to one that is converter dominated (15). This latter paradigm reduces the physical inertia in the system currently provided by traditional power plants while increasing reliance on information and digital signals to maintain the robustness and power quality of the modern grid (12).

Here are some interesting figures from the this Review:

Fig. 1 Global cumulative installed capacity (in gigawatts) for wind energy and estimated levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for the U.S. interior region in cents per kilowatt-hour from 1980 to the present.Historical LCOE data are from (17) and (20) and have been verified for all but 5 years with the U.S. wind industry statistics database detailed in (17). LCOE data have been smoothed with a combination of polynomial best fit and linear interpolations to emphasize the long-term trends in wind energy costs. Historical installed capacity data are from the database detailed in (17), the Global Wind Energy Council, and the American Wind Energy Association.
Fig. 2 Wind turbine blade innovation comparing a modern commercial blade (top) and a commercial blade from the mid-1980s (bottom) scaled to the same length.The modern blade is 90% lighter than the scaled 1980s technology.
Fig. 3 Relevant wind power scales across space—from large-scale atmospheric effects in local weather at the mesoscale to inter- and intraplant flows and topography at the microscale.
Fig. 4 Wind turbine blades are complex composite shell structures in which small-scale manufacturing flaws can grow because of the incessant turbulence-driven loading that can cause large-scale problems.
Fig. 5 Power generated by the weather-driven plant must connect to the electrical grid and support the stability, reliability, and operational needs on time scales ranging from microseconds (for managing disturbances) to decades (for long-term planning).
Fig. 6 A spectrum of science, engineering, and mathematics disciplines that, if integrated, can comprehensively address the grand challenges in wind energy science.

Please Connect With Us

Our electricity currently comes from a mix of sources: Aging fossil fuel plants on Long Island, imported energy from “dirty” plants in neighboring regions and states,
and small local peaker plants in East Hampton and Southampton. These sources all contribute to air pollution and the Climate Crisis, and are subject to volatile “rate shock”. Doesn’t it make sense to begin the move to clean, renewable Offshore Wind Energy?


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