updated 4/27/2005 2:52:56 PM ET 2005-04-27T18:52:56

Backed by New York Gov. George Pataki, two utilities on Wednesday began a public relations campaign to get support for a massive wind power project four miles offshore from south Long Island.

As early as 2008, some 44,000 homes could run off electricity from the proposed 40 turbines, which would be 426 feet tall. The utilities still need federal and state approval for what would be the largest offshore wind project in the United States. Several such sites exist abroad, especially in Europe.

Supporters of the Long Island project include some environmental groups, but wind power concerns include deaths of birds caught in blades and the visual impact of the giant turbines from the shore. The latter has been a factor in holding up another offshore project off Cape Cod, Mass.

'Tired of being held hostage'
The two utilities heralded the Long Island project as a way to break U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“Today we draw a symbolic line in the sand and say we’re tired of being held hostage to OPEC and other foreign oil producers, and we’re going to do something positive to develop an alternative energy resource that will heal, not hurt the environment,” Richard Kessel, chairman of the Long Island Power Authority, said in a statement Tuesday announcing the project.

“Over a 20-year period," he added, "the offshore wind park could prevent the burning of over 13.5 million barrels of fuel oil, which will eliminate millions of tons of combustion emissions from going into our region’s environment."

LIPA and partner FPL Energy expect the wind park to result in an annual emission savings of 235,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 489 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 211 tons of nitrogen oxides.

Environmental backers
Supporters include Pataki, a Republican who has championed alternative energy, and the Long Island Offshore Wind Initiative, a coalition that includes environmental groups.

“We firmly believe that we must harness offshore wind energy in our efforts to combat climate change, reduce air pollution and increase energy security,” Ashok Gupta, an energy economist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in the statement. “Given the very high fuel prices we are seeing, investing in wind energy is an excellent strategy to help keep energy prices down on Long Island.”

Added Chris Miller of Greenpeace. “We applaud LIPA for taking a leadership role in developing this important resource on the East Coast.”

Marie Pendzich, energy chair of the Sierra Club's Long Island chapter, stated that “we hope that this project will eliminate our unwarranted caution and become the breaking ground for many projects to come. We can look at these sleek, stately turbines or we can look at an oil rig. We are proud that Long Island is taking the lead.”

Kessel said several environmental groups on Wednesday were launching an “Energy Independence” campaign aimed at Long Island’s political, business and civic leaders.

Each of the 40 turbines would be capable of producing 3.6 megawatts of electricity, for a total of 140 MW.

The turbines would be clustered in an eight square mile area four miles south of Cedar Beach. A 10-mile long underwater cable would carry the electricity to an existing substation in West Amityville, N.Y.

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