PROVIDENCE – Governor Carcieri and other supporters of an expanded wind-energy proposal in Rhode Island Sound say it could spur the creation of an alternative-energy economy in the state, but fishermen worry that development of the project will come at the expense of their industry.
Leaders of commercial fishing groups in Rhode Island reacted with dismay on Wednesday to Deepwater Wind’s announcement that it had doubled to 200 the number of wind turbines that it proposes installing in federal waters between the Ocean State and Massachusetts.
Those same waters, bordered by Block Island to the west and Martha’s Vineyard to the northeast, are fertile fishing grounds that Rhode Island fishermen and lobstermen depend upon for their livelihoods. They say that if wind turbines are built in that area, insurance companies may forbid them from fishing there because of liability issues, or federal authorities may exclude them for safety and security reasons.
“We understand the value of this thing,” said Chris Brown, president of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association. “But we don’t want to become collateral damage.”
Brown said that Deepwater had reached out to fishing groups and tried to work with them in determining a location for the 1,000-megawatt wind farm, but they couldn’t find a site that wouldn’t affect the fishing industry.
“It’s all critical habitat,” he said. “There’s someone making a living on every square inch.”
Deepwater said it purposely designed the wind farm to accommodate commercial and recreational boaters. The project, called the Deepwater Wind Energy Center, is divided into two main arrays, one of about 50 turbines and another of 150 turbines. The company would space the machines 0.7 miles apart to allow fishing boats to more easily travel through the groupings. Corridors 1.5 miles long would also cut through parts of the project for boat navigation.
But Brown and Lanny Dellinger, president of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association, said it may not be Deepwater’s decision whether boats would be allowed to travel into the wind farm. Dellinger said he knows of insurers in Europe who won’t allow it for fear of a vessel hitting a turbine.
“Commercial fishing and wind farms are not compatible,” he said.
State officials, however, said that the two industries can indeed coexist.
“Our goal here is not only to achieve a renewable-energy future for Rhode Island,” said Keith Stokes, executive director of the state Economic Development Corporation. “We’re not going to supplant the fishing and boating industries in Rhode Island. We know how important they are to the state.”
He pointed to the development of the Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), an ocean-zoning effort that designates areas where wind farms could be developed. The plan, which is overseen by the state Coastal Resources Management Council, takes into account fishing grounds, shipping channels, ecological impacts and other concerns.
Grover Fugate, executive director of the CRMC, said that preliminary information from Deepwater appeared to show that the new project complies with the SAMP.
The section of Rhode Island Sound that Deepwater is interested in is the subject of a memorandum of understanding between Rhode Island and Massachusetts that requires the SAMP be used as a guide to development. The 400-square-mile “area of mutual interest” is divided into 3-mile-by-3-mile “blocks” for planning purposes. Deepwater’s wind farm would occupy portions of 30 blocks that total 270 square miles.
Although the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is the lead permitting agency for the project, Deepwater did notify the CRMC of the blocks it is interested in developing.
Asked if the proposal is consistent with the SAMP, Fugate said, “From what I’ve seen so far, yes.”
State officials expect to hear more about the federal permitting process that Deepwater and Neptune Wind, a second company that has submitted a proposal for Rhode Island Sound, will go through at a BOEMRE workshop at Roger Williams University on Friday.
According to Fred Hashway, the EDC’s director of government affairs and policy and a member of the task force working with BOEMRE, the companies will be assessed to see if they have legal standing, whether they have the financial ability to carry out their projects and whether they have the technical expertise. He also said that more public comment will be taken on the plans.
Governor Carcieri, who will speak at the workshop, said Deepwater’s new proposal would boost the state’s chances of becoming a hub of the offshore wind industry.
“The beauty of this at this scale is the possibility of attracting turbine manufacturers and blade manufacturers,” he said. “It looks like you have a real industry developing with a project of this size. If we can get this done, it will really begin to put Rhode Island on the map.”
He and Stokes both said that Deepwater’s move to expand the proposal bolsters the state’s decision in 2008 to choose the company as its preferred developer of offshore-wind power.
“The fact that they now are talking about a much bigger project, that just confirms the feeling that they could raise the capital,” said Carcieri, who is in his final weeks in office.
Governor-elect Lincoln D. Chafee was briefed Tuesday on the 200-turbine proposal, which would be the second wind farm proposed by Deepwater off Rhode Island. Construction of the large project would follow installation of a five- to eight-turbine demonstration project off Block Island. A power-purchase agreement related to the smaller wind farm is the subject of a state Supreme Court case that is expected to be decided in the spring.
Michael Trainor, a spokesman for Chafee, said the incoming governor is enthusiastic about the new project, but is awaiting the court decision.
“Governor[-elect] Chafee remains extremely supportive of a renewable-energy future for Rhode Island and is impressed with the scope of the proposed Deepwater Wind project,” Trainor said. “At the same time, he is aware of the pending court case and will monitor the progress of that case closely. The court outcome will continue to shape and inform his position on the Deepwater Wind project.”
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