Gov. Carcieri’s call for bids to develop a wind farm near Block Island, due in five weeks, came as a surprise to islanders, and apparently to most of Rhode Island and even, perhaps, the governor’s administration. That’s a little disturbing.
Is this a bold attempt to speed progress toward the governor’s alternative energy goal, or a lurch into unknown quicksand? Does the state intend to lay the legal and scientific foundation for a huge enterprise, or is it trusting corporations to do the right thing?
Whatever the case, it is gratifying to islanders that the governor specifically included Block Island needs in the planning. He called on bidders to consider placing an electricity substation on the island. “ . . . it is important that New Shoreham be allowed to benefit from a cable connection to the mainland,” the governor said – a cable connection that our little island market could never afford by itself.
Yet only a few days ago, the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) was considering a one-year moratorium on alternative energy projects while it develops rules and regulations, work not yet started.
What are these rules and regulations? It will be recalled that a state study has outlined several offshore areas where wind farms could be contemplated. Two of the sites are the areas south and southwest of Block Island for which Gov. Carcieri is now seeking bids.
But that study investigated only the surface use of the waters: the ferry routes and shipping lanes. What’s lacking, said a CRMC spokesperson, is “fundamental science.”
A meteorological tower will certainly be erected to analyze wind speed and direction out there. That’s not a quick process. Data from one year may not be adequate to evaluate the potential for power generation – engineers and financial backers may want to see two or three years’ worth.
At sea level and below, what fish and marine life use those waters, and how? What numbers of people draw economic and recreational value from those waters? What is the ocean floor out there? How difficult will it be to plant dozens of huge structures in the seabed, and will that disrupt the marine life habitat? What forces will waves and storms bear on the towers?
All these questions and many more suggest months of gathering samples and specimens, data from buoys and soundings, information from commercial and sport fishermen. The CRMC intends to organize these studies, with the help of experts at the University of Rhode Island. Only when it gets the reports can it develop rules and regulations and grant permits.
Some of the wind farm territory outlined by the governor is in federal waters, which will certainly slow the permitting process. So it will take many months to develop the standards that will protect the natural resources of the sea – a CRMC/URI paper outlines dozens of separate inquiries, costing several million dollars, to be completed in 2010.
One hopes the governor’s abrupt call for bids does not foretell a willingness to bypass the scientific studies and plunge ahead. In the push for action, we must make sure it is the right action.
14 April 2008
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