A New York wind energy company is asking a state agency to let it install four meteorological masts in waters off Block Island, Little Compton and Fishers Island to collect wind data in preparation for building offshore wind farms at some or all of the sites.
But despite Governor Donald Carcieri’s commitment to establishing offshore wind farms, state officials have so far expressed doubt about Allco Renewable Energy Group’s application, saying it doesn’t fit the model the state is developing for renewable energy projects. And the coastal agency that deals with offshore permit applications says it doesn’t know when it will be ready to make a decision on Allco’s application.
Allco announced Monday, November 26, that it plans to develop up to four offshore wind projects in Rhode Island, saying it was attracted by the governor’s pro-wind stance.
“We are committed to a community-based approach and have successfully worked with communities to develop renewable energy resources throughout the United States,” said Allco’s managing director Jim Wavle in a statement.
Company representative Bill Fischer, a communications specialist with Vision Strategies of Providence, said in an interview that the company submitted its applications to Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) in late September. The agency then asked for some supporting information, which the company has supplied.
Allco needs to collect data for at least a year-and-a-half, Fischer said, to aid in the selection of turbines and assure investors that the sites would work. The company will then seek further funding before starting the projects, and could spend up to $2 billion on them.
Allco would like to get the data-gathering towers in as soon as possible. “It doesn’t commit the state to a wind farm,” Fischer said. But a history of data is essential, he said, no matter who ends up building the farm.
Offshore wind-farm technology and permitting is in its infancy in the United States, he said. Proposals have stalled in Cape Cod and Long Island. “That’s the challenge for the state of Rhode Island,” Fischer said. “You can’t point to somewhere else in the country and say ‘There’s the model.’ We think we could help the state and Governor Carcieri meet their goals.”
CRMC spokeswoman Laura Ricketson-Dwyer says the agency is still working out how to deal with renewable energy projects and wants to meet with other state agencies before it decides how to proceed.
“Because this is a first for the state and the CRMC,” said Ricketson-Dwyer, “determining how ‘complete’ [an application] for this type of project is is difficult.”
She said the agency is still processing the application and “we hope to work with the state (energy commission) to determine the next steps in the process.”
Looking for the best deal
The state energy commission, meanwhile, says it wants the state to file for permits and then let companies bid for them, rather than let a private company hold the cards.
“We want to get the best deal for the state of Rhode Island on this, not take the first deal that comes along,” said Andrew Dzykewicz, commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources. “There are so many people out there that could do this project that there is no point in Rhode Island hooking up with a single company right now.”
Dzykewicz has been leading a stakeholder process that has brought together representatives of all the communities and agencies potentially affected by offshore wind projects. Although the group disbanded without picking a site, Dzykewicz said the options have basically come down to two areas, one a mile or so south of Block Island and the other off Little Compton, both in state waters.
Four or five companies have been talking to the state in the past few months about doing the projects, he said.
Dzykewicz said he doesn’t like the fact that Allco didn’t get in touch with the state energy office or the governor before filing its permit applications with CRMC last month. “I don’t think we’re looking to have a company come in and interrupt the process we’ve got going on,” he said, “and I’m not convinced they can actually get the job done.”
Steven Kass of the governor’s office sounded an equally pessimistic note. “I don’t think [the Allco project] is going to happen,” he said. “They didn’t even speak to anyone in Rhode Island” before filing for permits.
But the governor does want to see action on wind farms, Kass said. Carcieri is “getting very impatient with the stakeholder process,” Kass said. “He is frustrated because he would love to have this in progress before he leaves office.”
The governor and state energy office are poised to drive the process forward, Kass said. Speed is of the essence because wind turbines are in high demand around the globe, he said. “My biggest fear is that, as the rest of the world jumps on this bandwagon, we could get price escalation.”
‘Committed to Rhode Island’
Allco CEO Thomas Melone and senior vice president Gordon Alter met with Dzykewicz last week to assure him that the company is committed to the project, Fischer said. “We are more than open to a joint partnership with the state,” he said, including revenue sharing and power purchase agreement plans.
If the project goes forward, Fischer says, Allco would listen to community concerns. “Local residents can help influence the scope and scale,” he said. If the company does install turbines off Block Island, he added, it would also install a two-way power cable so that the island could both sell to and draw from the national grid.
Power sales agreements would mean that “the benefits of the wind projects could be passed through to all Rhode Islanders,” says a company press release
“In particular, the offshore wind project proposed by Allco south of Block Island could make the island the first community in the nation wholly powered by wind energy, which will significantly reduce electric rates for island residents,” said Allco’s Wavle in the release.
If approved, the meteorological masts would give island residents a taste of what the turbines would look like. They would be between 180 and 300 feet high. An anemometer at the top would rest on a single pole or a narrow lattice structure.
The turbines could number upwards of 300, spread across up to four sites. The distance from the surface of the ocean to the hub of the turbines would be in the same range as the masts – 300 feet at the tallest – depending on where wind speeds are optimal.
Rhode Island’s shallow coastal waters are attractive for wind farms, Fischer said, because they cut down on construction costs compared with deep-water sites such as that proposed by Cape Wind. Wind resources are also strong.
But it was the launch of Carcieri’s RIWINDS program in January 2006 that caught the company’s eye.
Carcieri has said he wants 15 percent of the state’s energy, or about 150 megawatts, to come from wind power. A $380,000 study, paid for by a surcharge on electric bills and a grant from a Florida wind power company, identified 11 possible sites.
Jeff Neal, another spokesman for the governor, said the Allco application is a “promising development” because it shows “willingness to invest” and proves that “the project is feasible.”
Allco is a Wall Street investment banking firm that specializes in renewable energy project development.
Allco hold a controlling interest in Outland Renewable Energy LLC, a wind development and operations and maintenance company based in Minnesota that is currently developing 14,000 megawatts of wind projects throughout the United States, according to the company release.
Allco has arranged for or made investments in more than $25 billion of equipment, infrastructure and other projects, they say.
Outland has provided communities with the opportunity to invest in and be owners of the projects in which they are involved, says Allco, using a local ownership model in projects in the midwestern United States.
Allco is also a principal shareholder in solar energy companies SunEdison and GroSolar.
By Pippa Jack
3 December 2007
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