LITTLE COMPTON – Word that a New York firm hopes to build 50 to as many as 84 wind turbines in waters a short distance south of Little Compton has prompted questions and concerns here. Allco Renewable Energy Group Ltd. filed preliminary papers with the state coastal Resources Management Council in late September in which it outlined a proposal to erect perhaps as many as 335 turbines at four Rhode Island coastal sites.
Other sites include waters off Sachuest Point and Second Beach in Middletown (85 to 120 turbines in up to 9 square miles of water); just south of Block Island (50 to 84 turbines in up to 6.5 square miles of water); and 50 turbines off Westerly.
The location three miles south of Sakonnet Point covers an area of from 3 to 6.5 miles and runs east to a point roughly south of the Little Compton Westport line. The turbines would be big: Each tower would stand 345 feet above the water and hold blades with 295-foot diameter.
Although this is the first actual proposal involving an offshore wind farm in Rhode Island, it will mark the third time that turbines have been discussed for waters within view of Little Compton.
Two years ago, the South Coast Offshore Wind Project proposed placing from 90 to 120 turbines in Buzzards Bay from waters off Westport to points east. And last April, a study sponsored by Governor Carcieri identified ten offshore locations that might be suitable for wind farms, including the location south of Sakonnet Point. The Governor and his alternative energy committee are looking into a state-sponsored wind project that might generate as much as 15 percent of the state’s electricity.
In its Preliminary Determination Request form, Allco proposes using four of the sites described in that state study. The filing does not mean any action or even hearings are imminent. A CRMC official told the Providence Journal last week that is unclear how long the CRMC will need to respond and added that the CRMC does not yet have guidelines for permitting offshore wind farms. Staff members were only recently directed to begin establishing such guidelines.
Plan raises questions
“I think there are a ton of questions that would need to be answered about this project,” state Rep. John J. Loughlin II (Little Compton, Tiverton) said last week.
“Little Compton is … the place where the farms meet the sea. We really need to look at this project very, very closely and have every question answered before we gamble with the Little Compton and Tiverton we will leave to future generations,” he said. His questions include:
* What would the wind farm do to the character of the coastline?
* How would the power come ashore?
* Would an industrial electrical substation need to be built on land in Little Compton to accommodate the energy produced?
* Would high tension poles and wires need to be installed from Little Compton through Tiverton to get the power into the grid?
* What would construction do to the environment and the fisheries?
* Who would maintain the towers and how much would that cost?
* What is the economic viability of the project or would it need to receive tax subsidies?
* What will be the effect on electric rates?
“I have two major concerns,” said Little Compton Town Council President Robert L. Mushen.
“The economic impact of such a project has not been shown, to my knowledge.” he said. “Will reliance on wind-produced electrical energy economically reduce our dependence on oil from foreign sources?”
Second, “The infrastructure to move large amounts of electrical energy at high voltages is not in place in Little Compton, nor within 10 miles. The cost and impact of establishing the necessary transmission paths will be very significant.”
Trip Samson, president of the Sakonnet Point Club said he knows little about the proposal so far.
Still, “It is hard for me to believe that there would not be significant objection if the wind farm planned off the Little Compton shore is highly visible. It seems certain that there would be material view shed and navigational issues to address. So, while I have no strong opinion now (because I have not seen the plan), I would say that it is highly probable that I won’t like it and may well join forces with others in Little Compton to fight it if it is going to have a material impact on our shoreline.”
Roy Bonner of Little Compton is skeptical of wind power plans in general, especially one of this magnitude.
“Wind energy leads the list as the most expensive source and potentially the most damaging to the environment,” he said, and without subsidies “is not feasible by any rational measure.”
Mr. Bonner said that wind” may become attractive when the cost of oil goes well over a hundred dollars. Except we don’t use very much oil to generate our power We use natural gas. National Grid just reduced the price of gas 1.5 percent since there’s so much of it we have no place to store it. … I suspect that the New York ‘investors’ are interested because they see the potential in all the subsidies available to make it attractive to them.”
Mimi Johnson, an environmentalist who lives part-time in Little Compton, said, “I am totally supportive of wind power but have pretty serious reservations about the effect on migratory birds in the locations they have chosen. Little Compton and Sachuest Point (Middletown) are very, very special places for migratory birds.”
By Bruce Burdett
19 November 2007
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