Deepwater Wind Chief Development Officer Paul Rich provided a status report to the Electric Utility Task Group Friday on the proposed wind farm three miles off Block Island’s Southeast coast.
Rich told the task group that the appeals of the Public Utility Commission’s recent decision to approve Deepwater’s Purchase Price Agreement with National Grid have not yet derailed its timetable to have the farm built by 2012. However, he cautioned that could change since he does not know how long the appeals will last.
Talks with National Grid to set a schedule to discuss the transmission cable to the mainland have also begun, according to Rich. The permitting process for the cable would take roughly a year once Deepwater and National Grid have reached an agreement.
The Ocean Special Area Management Plan, or SAMP, an ambitious zoning of the ocean off Rhode Island’s coast, will be completed and adopted in early October, Rich said. The SAMP would help in the siting of future offshore wind farms off the Rhode Island coast.
Deepwater will continue to gather wind and environmental data even after the SAMP is complete. It has recently deployed a Sea ZephIR to measure wind speed and direction. It is being calibrated on island and will then be deployed on a buoy near the proposed wind farm site.
Mohegan Trail resident Rosemarie Ives attended the meeting and questioned the cost projections of the Deepwater transmission cable and whether the PUC would allow a stand-alone cable.
Task Group member Barbara MacMullan explained that most of the cost difference between Deepwater’s estimate of more than $40 million and a $20 million estimate from several years ago was due to the location of the cable’s landfall in Narragansett Bay rather than Charlestown. The Narragansett location was chosen due to environmental and grid connection concerns with the Charlestown location.
Block Island Power Company Chief Operating Officer Cliff McGinnes Sr. said that the old study was no longer relevant and that, in his opinion, anyone who thought the island could get a stand-alone cable without a wind farm was “smoking something.”
McGinnes explained that it was not a question of whether the PUC would approve a stand-alone cable, pointing out that it had already done so in the past. Rather, it was a question of how such a cable would be financed. He said that he did not foresee mainland ratepayers shouldering much of the burden of a cable without the wind farm.
Ives said that the PUC indicated, after it rejected the initial wind farm PPA last spring, that it would be willing to socialize the cost across Rhode Island. However, in an e-mail after the meeting MacMullan said that she had reread the PUC decision and found that, “The commission order states they will open a docket to investigate construction of a cable. Nowhere in the discussion is there a statement that the costs will be socialized, in fact there is no discussion of who will pay for the cable at all.”
McGinnes also presented an update on BIPCo, which has applied for a USDA grant to upgrade its distribution system. He said that the grant would not cover the entire project, which he estimated at nearly $4 million. Outside financing would be required, as well as a rate increase.
McGinnes said that the PUC would be looking at the proposed upgrade soon and would have to sign off on the project before it could go forward.
BIPCo will also be required to upgrade its generators by 2013 to comply with tighter emissions regulations. McGinnes said the company is proceeding as though no cable would be installed by that time. BIPCo is currently testing a prototype generator that meets the newer standards; however, McGinnes said the power company would not to need all new generators, it would simply require the old engines to be retrofitted.
McGinnes commented on a recent letter to the editor in the Block Island Times by John Warfel, which made the case for increased renewable generation in the absence of a cable. McGinnes said that alternative energy generation would be more practical with a cable and that the “rule of thumb” was that 40 percent of the island’s electricity needs could come from renewables.
Town Council member Peter Baute discussed several energy grants he has been working on with the Washington County Regional Planning Council. He said that there was no word on a grant to fund a feasibility study for a land-based wind turbine, nor had an agreement been reached on the $750,000 grant the town received to construct such a turbine.
Baute also said that the Island Energy Plan Committee hopes to have a plan ready to be adopted by the end of the year.
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