As renewable energy companies are approaching the state with cutting-edge proposals, officials think it’s time to zone Rhode Island’s coastal waters and they are asking the University of Rhode Island for help.
The Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources is giving URI $200,000 to start research on offshore energy projects, such as wind farms and wave-powered floating moors, representatives from the energy resources office and URI said.
URI scientists, engineers and oceanographers will study the effects associated with alternative energy projects, including their impact on wildlife, commercial fishing, navigation, coastline views and the environment.
On Dec. 4, representatives from both parties signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to be partners for the research, which was followed by a letter from the state to URI awarding the grant on Jan. 2.
Essentially, the URI research will help create zoning regulations for uses such as permitting wind farms and protecting waters for commercial fishing or boat routes, said state energy commissioner Andrew Dzykewicz.
“As soon as this is done we will get a lot of interest from the development community,” Dzykewicz said. “If it is going to work any place it will work in Rhode Island.”
The priority will be on researching wind energy, Dzykewicz said, and with the state’s manageable size and abundance of marine research expertise, Rhode Island has the resources to develop alternative energy plans internally and be a national leader in the unfamiliar process of permitting offshore renewable energy projects.
A Massachusetts-based company, Energy Management Inc., was the first in the country to propose offshore wind energy – the Cape Wind project, an idea that has met harsh resistance.
Cape Wind has been trudging through the Massachusetts and federal permitting processes, as well as combating public opposition from powerful Cape Cod residents such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy since the project emerged in 2001.
By tapping Rhode Island’s reserve of experienced oceanographers and ocean engineers to do the impact work upfront, the state is hoping to allay the fears of environmentalists, local residents and other interested parties, said URI ocean engineer Malcolm Spaulding.
“We are helping the state now instead of having to come back later,” Spaulding said. “You essentially minimize the delays and expense at the end.”
The Coastal Resources Management Council, which has jurisdiction of waters up to three miles from the coastline and around the state’s islands, received its first proposal for offshore wind energy last fall.
New York-based Allco Renewable Energy Group Ltd. submitted paperwork and a filing fee of $8,000 in September to build and operate anywhere from 235 to 338 wind turbines in the waters off Little Compton, Watch Hill and Block Island.
The move prompted the CRMC to develop a zoning plan, said the agency’s executive director, Grover Fugate.
The CRMC is not officially part of the agreement between the state and the university, but it will use URI’s findings as the guide to establish criteria for alternative energy proposals, said CRMC spokeswoman Laura Ricketson-Dwyer.
Part of the agreement establishes two projects: the URI Center of Excellence for Offshore Energy and the university’s Partnership for Energy.
Dzykewicz said his office expects the university’s proposal any day now, which will estimate costs for the research.
Spaulding said they hope to complete the work in 18 months.
Until then, all proposals, like those from Allco and an Australian company, Oceanlinx, to develop wave energy, will be put on hold.
By Natalie Garcia
Journal Environment Writer
4 January 2008
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