The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council wants to place a one-year moratorium on all renewable-energy proposals in state waters, during which the agency will determine suitable locations for offshore wind farms and draft regulations for the projects.
The proposal pits the agency responsible for regulating Rhode Island’s waters against Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, who believes the moratorium would unnecessarily delay the development of renewable-energy sources in the state.
But Grover Fugate, CRMC’s executive director, said implementing a moratorium _ during which zoning regulations can be drafted for offshore energy projects _ would speed the process of building a wind farm in Rhode Island by avoiding the risk of public battles over obviously inappropriate development proposals.
“Our concern was, all it takes when you are in the process of doing this is one stupid application to pop its head up that goes in an area where it just doesn’t make sense to have this,” Fugate told Providence Business News. “And then when the next one comes along people say, ‘That’s ridiculous, we don’t need this in this state!’ You can literally kill an industry on a couple of stupid applications.”
The CRMC was caught off guard last September when Allco Renewable Energy Group Ltd., a New York-based investment team, submitted a preliminary application to build up to 338 wind turbines in Rhode Island waters.
Fugate said his concern about inappropriate development proposals did not refer to Allco’s desire to build in Rhode Island. William J. Fischer, a local spokesman for Allco, said the company supports the agency’s proposed moratorium.
“If that’s going to expedite the process and put rules and regulations on their books, we’re all for it,” Fischer said. “We’re absolutely committed to Rhode Island and we’re absolutely committed to working in a spirit of collaboration with CRMC.”
But the moratorium would further slow Carcieri’s ambitious renewable energy agenda, which calls for producing at least 15 percent of the state’s energy needs through wind, wave, and solar-energy sources.
Carcieri planned to contact the CRMC to urge the agency not to move forward with its proposal for the moratorium, said Jeff Neal, the governor’s spokesman.
“The governor thinks we need to move quickly and directly to make these renewable energy projects a reality, and does not support anything that would slow down our ability to do that,” Neal said.
Last October, a stakeholders group commissioned by the governor to determine a site for a wind-energy project in Rhode Island concluded its work without making a decision. The group did winnow the list of possible sites for a wind project to 11, including offshore sites in waters near Watch Hill in Westerly, Block Island and Little Compton, and land-based site in Little Compton.
Fugate described the report compiled by the stakeholders group as more a compilation of opinions than a scientific study, and said the CRMC would work with the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center to conduct a comprehensive ocean zoning plan that would identify suitable locations for wind energy projects.
The special area management plan, which would be modeled on zoning regulations created in Great Britain and other European nations to site wind farms, would consider the geological and other technical characteristics necessary for successful wind-energy projects, as well as conflicting uses in state waters.
“By doing a sensible siting analysis, you can take off the map, for instance, the marine transportation routes, you can take off the map the prime fishing grounds, you can take off the map the prime habitat areas, so that you give some assurances to those groups that you don’t have to fight this on a project-by-project basis all the time,” Fugate said.
The CRMC is seeking $6 million in funding for the work, $2 million of which will pay for the construction of a meteorological tower in Narragansett Bay that would collect data regarding wind speed and frequency, Fugate said.
Large investors in wind-energy projects recently began requiring at least two years of such data collection after a wind farm in Europe failed because there wasn’t enough wind where the project was built. Fugate said the tower could possibly be used by URI as a long-term ocean observation station.
A deadline for submission of written comment on the CRMC’s proposed moratorium ended
March 2. A public hearing on the proposal will be conducted at the Narragansett Bay Commission in Providence on March 11 at 6 p.m.
Work to draft zoning regulations for offshore wind energy projects would not be delayed by an advisory opinion that the R.I. Supreme Court is expected to issue in coming months on whether the CRMC is subject to the state’s separation-of-powers constitutional amendment, Fugate said.
Carcieri and separation-of-power advocates argue the CRMC is covered by the 2004 constitutional amendment, which requires the governor to appoint all of the 16-member CRMC. The R.I. General Assembly’s ability to appoint half of the 16-member CRMC creates conflicts of interest, they say.
Fugate expressed frustration that most press coverage of the agency involved the political controversies, internal divisions and allegations of misconduct that long have plagued the agency.
“In terms of the actual politics, I try to insulate the staff as much as I can from that,” he said. “Once this separation-of-powers question is out of the way, we probably won’t see as much of that type of issue and hopefully we can continue on the good work that we’re doing here.”
In the past year, the CRMC drafted first-in-the-nation regulations that take into account the rise in sea level expected in coming years as a result of climate change.
The agency has also overseen rapid growth of the state’s aquaculture industry, which has grown from less than three acres of production and about $100,000 in revenue to more than 100 acres of production and $100 million in revenue today.
A working group composed of shellfish farmers, scientists from URI and Roger Williams University, commercial fishermen, and representatives from the R.I. Department of Environmental Management and the CRMC recently completed a study of that industry and made recommendations the agency is considering to ease concerns by some stakeholders over the rapid growth of state’s aquaculture industry.
By David Ortiz
PBN Staff Writer
1 March 2008
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