A New York investment company has become the first to propose developing extensive wind farms off Rhode Island’s shore. It plans to erect 235 to 338 large wind turbines in state waters just off Watch Hill, Block Island and Little Compton.
The Allco Renewable Energy Group Limited says it is considering erecting turbines whose blades are 295 feet in diameter, mounted on towers that would rise 345 feet above the water. All would be within a few miles of the Rhode Island coastline.
Allco proposes to start construction in the first quarter of 2009 and go into commercial service a year later.
But if experience with other wind farm plans is any guide, the company may be beginning what could be years of hearings, studies and testing.
The first offshore wind farm proposed in America was by Cape Wind for federal waters in Nantucket Sound more than five years ago. Opponents have bitterly fought that wind farm. A spokesman for Cape Wind said the company hopes to get its final permit in another year.
While many people want to see wind farms developed to provide clean, renewable energy, there seem to be opponents at every site, complaining about harming the views or wildlife or endangering navigation.
The Cape Wind project has faced extraordinary opposition, yet it is significantly further offshore than the proposals for Rhode Island.
Neither Allco nor the state intended to make the company’s plans public this week. On Sept. 21, the company submitted documents called Preliminary Determination Request Forms to the Coastal Resources Management Council, along with $8,000 in application fees. CRMC regulates activities along the state’s coastline.
Laura Ricketson-Dwyer, the agency’s information coordinator, said the form is basically an announcement of a company’s general intentions so that CRMC can respond and lay out exactly what information should be submitted in a formal application.
“It is not an official thing,” Ricketson-Dwyer said. “We normally don’t comment until an application is received.”
Ricketson said many preliminary determination forms don’t become formal applications and this one is even more speculative than usual because CRMC has no rules for wind farm applications. So CRMC has some work to do before it responds to the proposal.
“Since this is a first for us and we don’t have a laundry list of application requirements, we don’t know how long it will take for us to respond,” she said.
Earlier this week, CRMC Chairman Michael Tikoian announced at a conference that due to pressure to develop wind farms and LNG ports, he had directed CRMC staff to begin planning for multiple uses of Rhode Island’s ocean waters – up to three miles offshore and three miles around Block Island.
When staff members were asked to explain what was motivating the new initiative, executive director Grover Fugate said the agency had been approached by a New York firm seeking to develop four sites off Rhode Island’s coastl for wind farms of varying size.
Fugate said CRMC wants to plan to protect areas that are used for ferry routes, or are of value to fishermen.
Documents Allco filed with CRMC give a brief description of the company’s plans. Telephone calls to senior vice president Gordon D. Alter, who signed the documents, were not answered. Nor were calls to Chris Whitman and Jim Wavle, identified as managing directors on the company’s Web site.
The Allco documents show that the company utilized a report commissioned by Governor Carcieri as he prepares to build a state-owned wind farm in Rhode Island waters. The $380,000 study identified 10 offshore sites, and one on land, as having the potential to support a wind farm comparable to the Cape Wind project, at a projected cost of $900 million to $1.9 billion.
Allco proposes using four of those sites for its projects.
Andrew Dzykewicz, Carcieri’s chief energy adviser, did not return a call seeking to find out whether the Allco proposal conflicts with the governor’s plans. Dzykewicz was aware that the proposal had been made, however, according to Jeff Neal, Carcieri’s spokesman.
In his proposal, Allco’s Alter described his company as a New York-based private investment banking firm specializing in project development. He said Allco holds a controlling interest in Outland Renewable Energy LLC, which he described as a wind development company based in Chaska, Minn.
“Allco recognizes that an offshore wind energy project must be harmoniously integrated with existing environmental, recreational, and commercial uses in Rhode Island waters,” Alter wrote to CRMC. “Allco is committed to undertaking such a project in partnership with the state of Rhode Island and other stakeholders in the project areas so that the goals and concerns of all stakeholders are met and properly addressed.”
At each of the four sites, Allco wants a permit to set up a meteorological station to collect wind speed data, and then later, build anywhere from 50 to 130 turbines.
The towers would be based on structures up to 18 feet in diameter, driven 50 to 90 feet into the seabed. For turbines, the company said it is considering the Vestas 3.0 MW turbine, the Siemens 3.6 MW or the General Electric 3.6 MW.
Allco writes that it would assemble its turbines at Quonset Point.
The company proposes arraying 50 to 84 turbines in a 3-to-6.5-square-mile area just south of Block Island. It wants to erect 85 to 120 turbines in a 5-to-9-square-mile area just south of Little Compton and Middletown. It wants to put up 50 to 84 turbines in a 3-to-6.5-square-mile area just a bit south of the Little Compton site. Finally, it wants to put up 50 turbines in 3 to 4 square miles just southwest of Watch Hill and Napatree Point.
Mark Rodgers, communications director for the Cape Wind project, said yesterday he hadn’t heard of Allco or its proposal. While the world of wind energy is a small one, it’s also an emerging technology, he said, so he’s not surprised at new companies entering the market.
Rodgers warned that while new applications are continually being filed around the country, companies also are dropping their plans in the face of community opposition or other obstacles.
“It’s a lot easier to file a permit application than to see the process through,” said Rodgers, whose company has faced years of political and legal obstacles.
By Peter B. Lord
Journal Environment Writer
16 November 2007
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