Despite the governor’s recent veto of sweeping renewable energy legislation, his office insists plans continue to move forward for a wind farm in the waters off Rhode Island.
On June 26 Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri vetoed a bill that would have required National Grid to enter into “commercially reasonable” contracts with renewable energy producers, outlines the state’s renewable energy goals and a system to promote financing.
While the legislation had little direct effect on Block Island, some called it critical to developing massive renewable energy projects like the wind farm proposed by Carcieri.
“It is certainly within the realm of possibility that such a farm could have run a cable to Block Island and gotten much, much lower electricity for people on Block Island,” said Jerry Elmer, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation that lobbied for the bill. “This veto makes all of that, including both the wind farm and possible benefit to Block Island, less likely to occur.”
The bill passed 52-11 in the House and 34-1 in the Senate, wide enough margins for a possible override. Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker William Murphy, said the House and Senate leadership had yet to decide whether to schedule a vote for a possible override. The assembly has until the end of the year to override the veto.
Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the Carcieri strongly backs renewable energy projects and the veto would not impede efforts to construct a wind farm.
“Things are moving forward,” she said. “Yes, legislation has to be in place but [the veto] is not hampering the mapping and permitting process, which is necessary to develop wind energy projects.”
In April the governor solicited bids from companies interested in developing a wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island, with potential sites including ones near Block Island. Seven companies submitted bids that a five-member committee is reviewing with an aim to make a recommendation by the end of the summer. Carcieri’s request asked for wind farms that could provide 15 percent of the state’s electricity needs, or 1.3 million megawatt hours of energy and encouraged the installation of a power cable to the island.
The governor also worked with the Renewable Energy Fund to have its board agree to free up $3.2 million for the development of a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP). That study would help speed up the design and permitting process. The winning company would reimburse its cost.
“The SAMP will be executed in two phases over a period of two years” Carcieri said in a statement. “The first phase will develop a zoning map for Rhode Island’s offshore waters, determining, among other things, defined areas where energy facilities may be constructed, taking into account not only environmental issues, but also resolving potential use conflicts. The second phase will develop design and construction rules for offshore energy projects.”
Under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, preparation of a SAMP enables permitting of projects within the area covered by the SAMP to proceed on the basis of an Environmental Assessment in lieu of an Environmental Impact Statement.
The University of Rhode Island and Costal Resources Management Council submitted a joint proposal to accomplish the work. The work will be performed under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding executed between the university, through the URI Partnership for Energy, and the state Office of Energy Resources.
The company ultimately chosen by the state would receive no direct funding. Rather the state would help guide the company through the regulations of building a wind farm, uncharted waters for the state.
The governor’s veto
In his veto statement Carcieri outlined his reasons for opposing the bill, taking particular objection to a clause that would provide National Grid a 3 percent bonus for purchasing renewable energy.
The governor said as a publicly regulated monopoly National Grid would incur no risk, nor have to invest any capital to reap the bonus. That, Carcieri said, rendered “any bonus unnecessary and unearned.”
Carcieri also objected that the bill did not require projects funded by ratepayers be located in Rhode Island, saying, “Rhode Island-based projects deserve greater weight.”
And, according to Carcieri, “most troubling” was a clause that required the state generate 5 megawatts of its energy through solar power.
“While it’s encouraging to see a Rhode Island project get priority, it’s unfortunate that the General Assembly picked perhaps the costliest renewable technology and decided to give it, and only it, preferential treatment,” Carcieri wrote.
The Conservation Law Foundation fired back with a two-page statement. In it, the foundation calls the veto a “major step backward for Rhode Island’s efforts to combat climate change.”
The foundation called the 3 percent bonus “critical for growth of green power” and noted it would only be awarded when electricity started flowing.
And while concurring that the bill lacks a requirement that the project be located geographically within Rhode Island, the foundation pointed out that under the bill the project must “directly benefit the people of Rhode Island economically.” The foundation argued such language could mean, for example, a manufacturing operation to build wind turbines for a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod could locate in Rhode Island.
Finally, the foundation said without the specification of solar energy it would be unable to compete economically with other types of electricity generation.
By Chris Barrett and Peter Voskamp
21 July 2008
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