Rhode Island’s plan to generate 15 percent of its energy from wind power has until recently enjoyed a wide swath of public support. In fact, for proponents, it has been a breeze.
That could change if the message purported by the newly-formed Alliance for Clean Energy resonates.
The group is being led by Newport real estate developer and former Republican state representative candidate Anthony M. Spiratos. Mr. Spiratos’ family owns property on adjacent to Easton’s Beach near one of the proposed wind farm sites.
Saying that offshore wind turbines represent a threat to the state’s environment, economy and health, the fledgling alliance is aiming to raise $5 million and build a coalition of supporters from Westerly to Block Island to oppose the estimated $2 billion alternative energy plan championed by Republican Governor Donald Carcieri.
Small wind and accusations
Billing itself as a non-profit environmental organization, according to its website, the Rhode Island Alliance For Clean Energy is “dedicated to promoting real clean energy solutions” such as solar, small wind, LED lighting, geothermal, compact fluorescent lighting, and overall energy conservation.”
“We see great flaws in Governor Carcieri’s large wind farm plans and believe it will harm our state,” Mr. Spiratos said during a recent interview.
According to Mr. Spiratos, small-scale wind, not large offshore turbines, are the path to energy independence.
However, according to a report issued by Applied Technology and Management, on an industrial basis, 95 percent of the state’s potential wind energy is located offshore. Of that, 75 percent is located within state waters.
The report also speculates that if a large-scale wind generating program is developed, there is a possibility that the state could lure wind power technology companies to Quonset and Fields points, creating a wealth of “green collar” jobs.
The plan is for the most part, on track.
In November, Allco Renewable Energy Corp. announced its intentions to develop the RIWINDS project at up to four locations.
Under its proposal, the New York-based firm would erect 85 to 120 turbines in a five- to nine-square-mile area just south of Little Compton and Middletown; 50 to 84 turbines in a three- to six-and-a-half-square-mile area just south of Block Island; and/or 50 turbines in three to four square miles just southwest of Watch Hill and Napatree Point.
Each of the sites came under scrutiny in 2007, during a series of four public stakeholder hearings.
The 400-foot wind turbines would be on par with the tallest structures in the state, such as the Bank of America Building in Providence, which stands at 438 feet, while the two towers of the Newport Pell Bridge each stand at 400 feet.
The state is currently in the process of seeking a private partner to finance, build and operate the wind farm project, encountering little opposition throughout the process.
One notable hang-up the governor has encounter occurred in March, when the CRMC announced a moratorium on the construction of wind turbines and wave energy generators based on concerns that a sufficient zoning plan would not be able to be developed in time for the state to ensure optimal siting.
Now, Mr. Spiratos has also charged the governor with being too cozy with wind farm developers.
According to campaign finance records, Gov. Carcieri received $1,250 from Cape Wind developer Energy Management International over the last seven years. He is listed among the supporters of EMI’s Cape Wind on the project’s website.
Mr. Spiratos sees a connection. “October 17th Governor Carcieri began receiving campaign contributions from Mitchell Jacobs, who is the treasurer and general counsel of Energy Management Inc. (EMI),” he writes on his website. “Less than six months later, on April 23, 2003, Governor Carcieri goes public and endorses the Cape Wind project which would be owned by Energy Management Inc.”
“These accusations about the governor’s renewable energy agenda would be comical if they weren’t so ridiculous,” said Jeff Neal, spokesman for Gov. Carcieri.
“Like many elected leaders across the country and around the globe, Gov. Carcieri has worked to reduce his state’s dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources of oil and natural gas. In particular, he has promoted the increased use of renewable energy sources in the Ocean State,” he added.
“While we understand that some people believe that reducing our dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels is not a worthwhile goal, we should be able to debate this subject without making false accusations about anyone’s plans or his motives,” Mr. Neal continued.
“I expect that the hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders who strongly support the use of renewable energy will be turned off by this group’s slash and burn tactics.”
Unlike the heavily publicized Cape Wind proposal, Mr. Spiratos is quick to point out that Rhode Island’s wind farm proposal calls for 400-foot turbines as close as a quarter of a mile from the coast.
A rendering of the 2.13-mile-long Newport Pell Bridge juxtaposed against a wind turbine is featured on the alliance’s website.
Another point of reference, he notes, is the turbine installed in 2006 at Portsmouth Abbey. That structure stands 167 feet tall.
According to a Request for Proposals issued earlier this year, the governor has identified the “preferred site” as south and west of Block Island.
Still, Mr. Spiratos is not taking any chances.
The permitting process for the three sites off of Aquidneck Island and Little Compton are also underway.
In September, Allco submitted eight preliminary applications for permits to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) after discussions with the CRMC.
Four of the permit applications submitted to the CRMC request permission to place meteorological masts in four of the offshore districts identified in the governor’s RIWINDS Wind Energy Siting Study.
Those sites, according to Mr. Spiratos, would come into direct conflict with fishermen, recreational boaters and the sailing community.
It would also pose an immediate environmental threat. The wind farm project, Mr. Spiratos claims, would require more than 100,00 gallons of oil at any given time to be located offshore in Rhode Island Sound.
Green groups weigh in
Despite Mr. Spiratos’ claims, Rhode Island’s environmental community remains cautiously optimistic of the governor’s plan and skeptical of some of the Alliance’s concerns.
Matt Auten, advocate for Environment Rhode Island, said that while his organization supports the goals of developing large scale wind farms, it is too early to comment on any specific site.
“We’re on board with the goals of the project,” he said. “Whatever site is approved will have to go through the proper environmental channels and permitting process,” he said.
Mr. Auten also added that he noticed “a number of inconsistencies” in viewing Mr. Spiratos’ group’s website, such as claims of adverse health effects due to turbines.
Save the Bay, which has supported low-impact hydro power as well as the Portsmouth Abbey wind turbine, is also waiting for the permitting process to play out.
According to its website, “Save The Bay is an advocate for renewable energy and encourages its responsible siting and development in and around Narragansett Bay,” the site reads.
“Much more information and detailed analysis is needed before any organization can take a position on specific locations for offshore wind in Rhode Island. Save The Bay supports moving these questions to (an environmental impact study), and will engage in the analysis to ensure environmental protection and the appropriate development of wind energy.”
The Alliance also believes the issue needs to be more closely looked at. Whether Rhode Islanders will come to their side, however, remains to be seen.
By Tom Shevlin
21 May 2008
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