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Offshore wind and wave farms still years away

It will take $6.6 million and three years to develop a permitting process for offshore wind and wave farms, said scientists from the University of Rhode Island in a presentation to state coastal officials March 11.

The presentation was part of Coastal Resources Management Council’s effort to establish rules for renewable energy projects in state waters. The council is pairing with URI in the process. All offshore projects have been put on hold until the new rules are in place.

Although meteorological towers to collect data will be allowed before the process is complete, under the suggested framework it will still be another year until the state allows them to be placed offshore. The towers would need to collect information on wind and wave action for at least two to three years following that.

The study will take a host of coastal factors into account besides wind and wave strength, including commercial fishing areas, shipping lanes, telecommunications cables and marine protected areas.

Phase one would involve creating a Special Area Management Plan, and the second phase would involve detailed mapping and other studies.

Wind and wave turbines are the only renewable energy plants that make financial sense, says a separate presentation from URI professor Malcolm Spaulding. Two other types of offshore renewable energy generation, ocean thermal energy conversion and tidal technologies, won’t work in Rhode Island’s coastal waters. One requires deep water, the other stronger tidal flows than exist here.

Oceangoing wind farms, on the other hand, have the potential to generate up to 685 megawatts of electricity, more than four times the state’s renewable energy goal, at a cost that is projected to be easily competitive with electricity generated from fossil fuels.

Wave farms could also generate some electricity, although much less and at a much greater cost, says Spaulding’s presentation.

In both cases, some of the most promising sites are south of Block Island, where big rollers come up from the south and winds have not been buffered by coastal features.

Allco, a company that has said it is interested in installing wind turbines in state waters, this week announced it is moving forward with a solar electric project in Coventry. The $45-million project is planned for a former pig farm, part of which was a designated Superfund site in the 1980s. The company says the 8 megawatt plant will be the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi. Coventry is to least the land to the company for at least $200,000 a year.

By Pippa Jack

The Block Island Times

31 March 2008