Governor Carcieri’s wind-power initiative suffered a significant setback Friday when the General Assembly failed to pass a bill that the governor said was needed to support the project.
The legislation would have created the Rhode Island Power Authority, a quasi-public agency that would have had the authority to issue bonds to finance renewable energy projects, such as the proposal by the governor to establish one or more wind farms capable of generating 15 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity usage.
The project, comparable in scope to the proposed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, could cost $900 million to $1.9 billion to build, depending on where the turbines would be located, how many were erected and several other variables.
Without the power authority legislation, the wind-energy project is essentially on hold, said Andrew Dzykewicz, the commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources.
“Now we start trying to find other ways we can keep these projects alive,” Dzykewicz said in an interview yesterday. “I would really hate to lose the wind project, the hydro projects, and all these other projects we have because we ran out of time to get a bill done.”
Besides the wind-energy project, other projects could be delayed, too. The Office of Energy Resources had hoped the power authority could finance a wave-energy project, expected to cost about $40 million. OceanLinx, an Australian company, has been talking to state officials about installing special generators that float in the ocean and produce power from waves.
The energy office is looking at the powers of other state agencies, such as the Economic Development Corporation, to see if one of those could perform some of the functions that a power authority would have been able to do, he said.
“We’re looking through state law to see if there is any entity that might be able to set up for the moment,” he said. “These projects are just too important to Rhode Island to let go.”
The power authority legislation was introduced this session to help carry out Carcieri’s alternative-energy initiatives. The governor has been especially interested in wind energy. The energy office, which is in the Department of Administration, released a study in April that found several areas off the coast of Rhode Island that are suitable for one or more wind farms that could generate about 150 megawatts of electricity – enough to supply 15 percent of the state’s power demands.
A key component of this strategy was to establish a quasi-public agency that could sell bonds to finance renewable energy projects, and would be able to buy and sell electricity. Such an agency would allow the state to reap the full benefits of the renewable energy produced within the state, according to Dzykewicz.
In the Senate, a bill was submitted by Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly, on behalf of Carcieri. One cosponsor of the bill was Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano, D-Lincoln.
The Senate passed an amended bill on Wednesday. It contained additional language that laid out how Rhode Island will participate in a regional state effort to cut down on the emission of pollution by power plants that has been connected with global warming, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”
But when the bill came up for a hearing in the House Environment and Natural Resources committee on Friday, House leaders had a lot of questions about the power authority section of the legislation, said Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker William Murphy.
The chairman of the environment committee, Rep. Peter T. Ginaitt, D-Warwick, “sees the value of a power authority, but the House has not been involved in any of the negotiations with this,” Berman said.
“It’s incumbent upon the governor’s office, which apparently has initiated this bill, to contact the House leadership and further explain it to us,” he said.
The environment committee stripped out the power authority portions of the bill, leaving only the greenhouse gas initiative language, and then passed that version. The amended bill was supposed to go to the full Senate for a vote on Friday.
However, the House had contemplated its own version of the bill, introduced in February by Rep. Eileen Naughton, D-Warwick. The House Finance Committee discussed the bill at a hearing in early May, but took no further action.
This spring, Carcieri said that establishing a power authority was a “critical step” in moving Rhode Island to being a leader in the development of renewable resources of energy. It would have played a central role financing the wind-energy project, which could cost $900,000 to $1.9 million.
The state could still proceed without a power authority by allowing a private developer to step in and build and operate its own wind facilities. But under that scenario, electricity from the project would likely be more expensive since the developer would expect to make a profit.
By Timothy C. Barmann
Journal Staff Writer
26 June 2007
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