Wind developers pressed ahead on two fronts this week, as two new players entered the fray with proposals to develop wind farms in waters west of the Vineyard and Cape Wind put the final touches on a deal to sell electricity to National Grid.
In recent weeks representatives from Rhode Island have met with Islanders to discuss the progress of the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), a comprehensive $7 million effort to study the environmental and economic importance of a 1,467-square-mile area that has been opened for wind development off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. An otherwise unremarkable discussion of the area at a meeting last Thursday at the Oak Bluffs Library took a sudden turn when John Weber of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs remarked offhandedly that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was currently reviewing two proposals for wind farms in what is termed the area of mutual interest between the states.
Warren Doty, chairman of the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, was incredulous.
“It’s amazing if you sit here long enough what you’ll finally hear,” he said. “We thought there would be some kind of a public process where BOEM would call for proposals and all of us involved would know that the call went out and there could be some response to that. We’ve seen a grid that’s been drawn out with numbers on it, but we’ve never heard there was a request for proposals that was on the table. I’m surprised to hear that not only was there was this opportunity to have proposals put in, but that they’re already in and that the BOEM is taking them seriously and going to respond to [them]. Is all that true?”
Grover Fugate, executive director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, responded that any developer could propose a project at any time in federal waters anywhere along the coast of the United States. That process was out of the states’ hands, he said. He also said the developers are currently undergoing a financial evaluation by the federal government to determine the viability of their proposals. He did not know where they were planning to build but did reveal the name of one of the developers: Deepwater Wind.
In September Deepwater Wind moved its headquarters to Providence, R.I. from New Jersey and named Jeffrey Grybowski its chief administrative officer. Mr. Grybowski was Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri’s chief of staff from 2003 to 2007. In August the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission approved a controversial 20-year power purchase agreement between Deepwater and National Grid for an eight-turbine project off Block Island. The agreement had been rejected by the utilities commission eight months earlier because of its economic drawbacks but was eventually approved after pressure from the Rhode Island General Assembly and Governor Carcieri. Deepwater has stated an interest in developing a 100-turbine project in waters further offshore.
Mr. Doty expressed disappointment with the process.
“I guess what I had assumed was happening is that the same way on Martha’s Vineyard we developed a moratorium while we put regulations in place, I guess our assumption has been that . . . everything inside [the area of mutual interest] was off limits until we developed our plan and had a request for information but apparently that’s not true,” he said.
Mr. Fugate said the process to gather data on fisheries and wildlife would go forward and that any proposal would not only have to be compatible with the findings of the SAMP but as part of the review process would need to pass muster with a fishermen’s advisory board, composed of commercial and recreational fishermen from both Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
“I’m detecting an undercurrent of surprise-slash-unhappiness in the audience with this announcement,” Mr. Weber said. “I expect the reason people are frowning at me right now is ‘Hey, you said you were going to collect our information and then things will go forward.’ That’s still the case folks. The fact that there are two unsolicited applications does not change that.”
Meanwhile Cape Wind, the controversial proposal to construct 130 turbines on Horseshoe Shoal cleared its final hurdle Monday with the approval by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities of a 15-year power purchase agreement with National Grid. Cape Wind president Jim Gordon reacted to the announcement on Monday exultantly.
“Massachusetts is now in a position to become a global leader in offshore wind power creating thousands of new jobs and a more secure, hopeful energy future,” he said. “Today’s approval validates that Cape Wind is a good value delivering clean energy without all of the associated costs of fossil fuels. This long-term contract not only secures an abundant, inexhaustible clean energy resource but protects consumers from rising fossil fuel and environmental compliance costs.”
National Grid will buy electricity from Cape Wind for 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour in 2013 and increase that rate by 3.5 per cent annually for 15 years. The Department of Public Utilities estimates the deal will raise electricity bills for residential customers by 1.3 to 1.7 per cent and for commercial customers by 1.7 per cent to 2.2 per cent.
Cape Wind claims that the project will create over 1,000 Massachusetts jobs in the manufacturing, staging, assembly, construction, and operation of the turbines.
At an Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday selectman Gail Barmakian reflected on the recent developments.
“The potential damages that are being explored by Rhode Island under SAMP haven’t really been addressed with Cape Wind, and since it’s a done deal we may be in big trouble,” she said. Ms. Barmakian suggested a requirement that nearby wind developers employ Islanders. “Right now we have absolutely no benefit that I can see other than a raise in rates from the Cape Wind project.”
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