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The lights went out just as I had finished the chapter, and was about to put down my book and go to bed. I looked at my watch, which shines in the dark, and noted that it was past 11 p.m. It was a clear night with no lightning or wind, was my first thought. Probably some driver ran into a telephone pole and disabled a transformer, my brain posited, trying to make sense of the sudden blackness. Then the loud noises began. In rapid succession, there was a series of what sounded like firecrackers going off somewhere on our street, close to our house. The acrid smell of smoke began to fill the air.

I briefly thought to go outside, then decided to wait a few minutes before bothering to fumble around for a robe or wake the rest of the house. Within minutes my neighbor across the street phoned. He looks directly at our property. And he said that the telephone pole right beside my driveway was on fire, flames and sparks coming out from the bottom. “We’ve called the fire department, and you seem to be in no immediate danger,” he reassured me. “They said they would be here directly. In fact, here comes a police car now. It’s beaten the fire truck.”

Time to wake the house and go outside for a look, I decided, hoping not to trip over any obstacle on my way to the front door. The police car was in our driveway, his lights the only ones piercing the darkness. “What’s happened?” I yelled as he got out and slowly walked toward me. He didn’t want to trip over a tree root or a curb either.

“Your telephone pole is burning but not to worry, the firemen will shortly have it under control,” he offered calmly, as if everyone deals with these particulars when they should be in bed asleep. When I asked, he told me his name and that he was from the 6th Precinct. My hostess instincts rushed to the fore. “Would you like some coffee or a sandwich?”

He laughed. It was, after all, a preposterous exchange to be having in the dead of night. “No thank you, but here come the guys from PSEG, right behind the firemen. They will take care of this quickly.”

It wasn’t so quick. A courageous soul from PSEG Long Island went up in one of those extending arm buckets mounted on the truck alongside the burning pole to cut the electric wires. At the same time, the entire street was plunged into darkness, no doubt at the direction of the power company.

“What caused such a reaction?” my neighbor asked a worker. “Who knows?” he replied with a shrug. “It could be a rodent or a squirrel chewing through the wires.” The responders were a gallant crew, seemingly unperturbed by the excitement. Between the fire trucks and the PSEG trucks, there were interminable blinking lights and radio noise for a couple of hours. The men went about their jobs in good humor, and when the lines were cut and the fire finally out, they promised to come back the next day. They were able to restore power to the rest of the block but, of course, not to us, before they left.

To their great credit, the men were back with trucks by 9 a.m. the following morning. This surface crew dug up the burnt wires, installed a new pole alongside the charred one and reconnected the overhead wires. The underground crew arrived around midday and installed the other wires beneath the soil, laboring until well after dark under bright lights before they finished.

By 9 p.m. we had our power back in our house but not the other services that are attached to the pole: cable and telephone. As of this writing, those services are promised shortly. Whatever we grouse about on the national level of our country, it is tremendously reassuring that on the local level we are remarkably well cared for. Three cheers for my helpful neighbors, the police, firemen and PSEG men.

As the calendar creeps into March, the North Shore of Long Island is not quite experiencing spring weather just yet. The entire East Coast of the United States was battered by Winter Storm Riley, which arrived during the morning hours March 2, with a combination of high winds, rapid rainfall and shear duration causing severe flooding and power outages locally in addition to several casualties elsewhere.

The nor’easter, or a storm along the East Coast of North America with winds over the coastal area blowing from the northeast, according to the National Weather Service, left more than 128,000 PSEG Long Island customers without power over the weekend. As of 8:30 p.m. March 4, the utility said more than 99 percent of its affected customers had power restored.

“Nor’easters are always a challenge and something that is a concern for us here, particularly when it comes to issues like power outages, flooding and coastal erosion,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during the afternoon March 2 while providing an update to residents about the storm. People worry about interruptions in the supply of drugs from online pharmacies. “This storm in particular is a challenge for a couple of reasons. You are combining here high winds and a significant amount of rainfall. When you have those two things happening at the same time you are creating an environment for power outages, downed power lines, downed trees blocking roadways. Those are all the things we are monitoring, watching out for.”

Bellone said he had been in touch with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office, and the state had offered to provide Suffolk with any additional equipment or personnel it required to effectively deal with Riley.

Much of Suffolk County experienced between 2 ½ and four inches of rainfall during the storm, according to the National Weather Service. Wind gusts in Suffolk reached as high as 78 mph in Middle Island, 51 mph in East Northport and 43 in Miller Place.

Port Jefferson Village, or Drowned Meadow as it was originally called in past centuries, endured substantial flooding. One Facebook poster joked Main Street in Port Jeff resembled Venice, Italy.

“We have flooding downtown folks and are now at high tide,” the village posted on its official Facebook page at about 11 a.m. March 2, adding several village streets had to be closed due to flooding. “We will keep you posted. Stay safe!”

There will be no rest for the weary hoping the passing of Riley would signal a shift toward spring weather, as the National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for much of the region March 5 calling for a winter storm that could bring several inches of snow beginning late March 6 into March 7.

The growth Long Island could see in renewable energy resources if the project is approved. Image from Invenergy

By Rebecca Anzel

The largest renewable energy project ever proposed for Long Island has near unanimous support

Clean Energy Link, introduced by Chicago-based private energy developer Invenergy, LLC, would produce 701 megawatts across 55,671 acres — about the size of Long Island’s North Fork.

Four wind farms and two solar farms would be privately funded and built in rural areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, and the power generated would be transferred to a substation in central New Jersey and converted from AC to DC. Then, it would be shipped 80 miles underground and underwater by a transmission line and connect to the Long Island Power Authority’s grid at a 3.5-acre facility on Ruland Road in Melville.

A spokeswoman from Invenergy said the company submitted a proposal to LIPA, and is hoping it will be granted a contract. It is unclear how much money LIPA is willing to pay for the electricity Clean Energy Link will generate, but if the power authority approves the project, it is expected to be operational by the end of 2020.

“I’ve been in this business since 2003 and this is probably one of the most, if not the most exciting project we’ve done,” Mike Polsky, Invenergy’s CEO, said at a press conference on Oct. 24. “It’s a very remarkable, bold and transformational step for New York State, and despite some naysayers, whatever they may say, it will happen.”

Clean Energy Link is a step toward achieving a mandate set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in August that 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2030. The first checkpoint is a requirement that utilities need to purchase energy from nuclear power plants in the state by April 2017 in an effort to prevent the facilities from closing.

“New York has taken bold action to become a national leader in the clean energy economy and is taking concrete, cost-effective steps today to safeguard this state’s environment for decades to come,” Cuomo said in a press release. “This Clean Energy Standard shows you can generate the power necessary for supporting the modern economy while combating climate change.”

According to Invenergy, about 9.5 million megawatt hours per year need to be produced by renewable energy sources statewide by 2030, and the Clean Energy Link project would produce about 1.6 megawatt hours per year.

How the wind and solar energy would make its way to Long Island. Image from Invenergy
How the wind and solar energy would make its way to Long Island. Image from Invenergy

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said because Nassau and Suffolk counties have about 3 million residents, it is a “notoriously very difficult place” to build anything. He expressed his support of the renewable energy project at a press conference in part, he said, because Long Island has experienced extreme weather and other impacts from increased carbon dioxide emissions.

“We have to be leaders on this issue — Long Island has to be out front,” he said. “… Part of that leadership means identifying what makes sense and maximizing the potential of the things that make sense. We are more at threat from climate change than just about any other region in the country.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the most important aspect of the project must be its affordability for residents. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New York had the seventh highest electricity prices in the country in 2015.

“The residents need to benefit. Period,” Anker said. “Energy costs are too high and we need to come up with a way to make it affordable for Long Island residents.”

One of her other concerns is if local communities are able to give feedback before LIPA officials decide whether to grant Invenergy a contract for the Clean Energy Link project.

For Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Clean Energy Link makes environmental sense because by increasing New York’s use of renewable energy, the state’s reliance on foreign fuel lessens, and therefore its carbon dioxide emissions will decrease. He also said the proposal is economically sound because the project would be constructed in states where land is cheaper and in more abundance than on Long Island, a point echoed by other local politicians.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he’s opposed Invenergy’s other project on Long Island — a 24.9 megawatt solar farm in Shoreham on the former Tallgrass Golf Course. It was approved by LIPA in May and is supported by other Brookhaven officials, who recently passed changes to the solar code prohibiting trees from being cut down for the construction of solar arrays.

“I don’t like the idea of solar farms on Long Island that impinge upon or displace green space,” Englebright said.

He added that transporting the power the Clean Energy Link project would provide underground is smart, because it would not be subject to disruptions due to weather.

“LIPA would be wise to move in the direction that this offers, which is the renewable direction,” Englebright said. “We’re an oceanic island, and putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere ultimately drowns us.”

To Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), the most impressive aspect of Invenergy’s Clean Energy Link proposal is its “multipronged” approach. Renewable energy should not be produced by just wind or solar individually. The project’s potential impact is greater because it would make use of both.

She also said lower energy bills would go a long way toward generating community support. According to Invenergy, the project’s proposed start date was chosen to make full use of federal incentives for solar and wind energy production, a savings that would be passed along to residents.

Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Dick Amper agreed that community support is imperative for the success of the project.

“If the people who produce solar cut down forests for it, or put it in residential neighborhoods or replace farms that produce food for it, the public is going to turn against solar,” he said. “It took 25 years for everybody to come along and agree we need renewables. They’re not going to like them if we put it in bad places, and we can’t afford to have the backlash because we need solar.”

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