November 28, 2007
Rhode Island

Wind energy firm seeks weather data

The company that wants to erect hundreds of wind turbines off the Rhode Island coast plans to first ask state regulators for permits to install four, 300-foot meteorological masts so it can gather weather data in the waters off Watch Hill, Block Island and Little Compton.

Two top executives of Allco Renewable Energy Group Limited – Thomas Melone, president, and Gordon Alter, senior vice president – met with state energy coordinator Andrew Dzykewicz last week to try to answer concerns Dzykewicz raised when the company’s plans to install 235 to 338 wind turbines became public two weeks ago.

Both sides said the meeting was cordial, but they don’t appear to agree on how Rhode Island should develop its potential coastal wind energy.

Dzykewicz said state officials want to proceed with a stakeholder group to identify and permit acceptable sites along the coast, and then seek proposals from the many potential vendors who can develop wind farms.

“I have a hard time – with so many potential vendors out there – committing to a single supplier,” Dzykewicz said yesterday. “I’ve been preaching this as a Rhode Island project to benefit Rhode Islanders. If we are going to sell this, we have to convince people that someone is not going to come in and take away all the revenues.

He also questioned whether Allco has the capital to develop a $1-billion wind farm.

James Wavle, Allco’s managing director, and Bill Fischer, a Rhode Island public relations specialist, said in an interview yesterday that they believe their proposal and the state’s plans can continue on parallel tracks.

The state can continue with its stakeholder process for selecting sites, while the state’s coastal regulatory body, the Coastal Resources Management Council, can establish criteria for permitting wind farms, and then consider Allco’s application, they said.

Fischer said there are still many unknowns with the state’s plans. The governor’s proposal to create a new state energy agency never got out of a House committee last summer and nothing is certain about what the General Assembly’s intentions will be this winter, or when it will act. The state has a tremendous budget deficit that could thwart the governor’s plans as well, he said.

“There are so many unknowns,” Fischer said. “CRMC has never regulated a wind farm. So with everything still in its infancy, we don’t think we’re disrupting the path he [Carcieri] has chosen.”

The important thing to Allco, Wavle said, is that the state is committed to wind energy. And regardless of whether the wind farms are developed the way the state wants them, or whether Allco gets the job, investors are going to want a year and a half of meteorological data collected at each site.

“I can’t overstate the importance of the commitment of state government to renewables,” said Wavle. “The only places where wind power is happening is where states are committed.”

Wavle said Allco is committed to doing business in Rhode Island. He said if its proposal for a wind farm south of Block Island gets approved, Block Island could go from having some of the country’s highest electricity rates to becoming the first community in the nation wholly powered by wind, at significantly lower rates.

While coastal wind farms are common in Europe, they are still rare in the United States. The Cape Wind company has been battling for five years to develop a wind farm in Nantucket Sound.

In response to Dzykewicz’s concerns about whether Allco has the capital to develop a $1-billion wind farm, Wavle said the company is investing its own risk capital in obtaining permits, doing studies and collecting data. When a viable package is put in place, he said, bank lenders and equity partners will be sought.

Allco is a New York-based, private investment banking firm that specializes in renewable energy projects. It is investing in solar energy projects with Sun Edison LLC in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Arizona and Washington, D.C., according to Fischer.

He said it is investing in wind projects that will generate a total of 14,000 megawatts of electricity in Texas, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.

The company filed its preliminary applications with the CRMC in September. Spokesperson Laura Ricketson-Dwyer said yesterday the agency still needs more information from Allco before it can respond.

CRMC staff will probably meet with Dzykewicz in a few weeks to start talking about how to permit and regulate wind farms, she said.

By Peter B. Lord

Journal Environment Writer

The Providence Journal

28 November 2007

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