The Town Council, in the face of an unfeasibly tight time frame and concerns about public support, voted to give up $750,000 in grant money for a land-based wind turbine Monday.
“I want to get this done as much as anyone,” First Warden Kim Gaffett said, “but, we need to get the feasibility study done first.”
The project would have to be underway by March 31, 2012, which the Town Council decided was not possible given the many decisions and approvals such an effort would entail. The state would not allow the town to use any of the funds for a feasibility study.
On the previous Friday Washington County Regional Planning Council Executive Director Jeff Broadhead met with the town’s Electric Utility Task Group to discuss how the town could potentially proceed with a project even within the timeline attached to the grant.
Broadhead said the state Office of Energy Resources required a full commitment from the town before it would release the money. This was a step back from previous indications the state would be willing to fund some planning work without a full town commitment to build the turbine.
“In this rapidly changing environment [the town] is at a choice point of where it wants to go,” Broadhead said Friday. “The only way for this to work is if the town is willing to bite the bullet and fund the development study or put out a [Request for Proposal] to a private company to carry all the risk.”
The town is still considering issuing an RFP for the project, which would include a “distinct break point” where the town could decide it did not want to proceed.
The possibility for federal money to fund alternative energy generation is not entirely dead either. Though the town will refuse this wind turbine grant it will apply for $250,000 in recaptured stimulus money to fund municipal solar projects. Broadhead said the Office of Energy Resources is planning to offer four $250,000 solar grants and said Block Island would be a good candidate to win one.
Deepwater Wind’s Block Island liaison Bryan Wilson updated the EUTG on the current progress of the proposed Block Island wind farm, up to eight turbines planned for within three miles of the island, and reiterated the company’s commitment to the project.
Responding to a question from the audience Wilson said that Deepwater would continue to pursue the Block Island farm even if federal tax incentives expire before the company is able to begin work on the $205-million project.
Wilson said that such a scenario would make the project more difficult to finance and would bring about a slower rate of return for Deepwater. He also said that there has been a history of retroactively awarding tax credits to projects in progress but not finished by the end of the credit period. However, Wilson added, “The industry could shrivel up and die if federal incentives go away.”
Wilson also provided a brief overview of the jobs the project has already brought to the state, including dockworkers, crane operators and several on-island consultants. In all Wilson said the project has created more than a dozen jobs thus far.
The appeal in the state Supreme Court of the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of a 24.4 cent Power Purchase Agreement between Deepwater and National Grid will hear oral arguments in May. Wilson said that they expect a decision from the Supreme Court the following month.
The Deepwater SPAR buoy retrofitting is nearing completion. The buoy will be deployed in mid-March a half mile northwest of the Coast Guard Station. Deployment was attempted late last year but the buoy was brought back to Quonset Point for design adjustments.
The buoy will collect data off the island for six weeks and be calibrated to the readings from the nearby MET-tower to ensure its accuracy. It will then be moved to New Jersey where Deepwater is planning another large wind farm.
A second buoy will be used to collect data from the site of the proposed Block Island farm.
Conservation of energy
The task group also discussed ways to improve electricity conservation on the island. Task group member Bill Penn said that renters often use electricity without worrying about conservation.
The task group agreed that a public awareness program could help. Task group Chair Barbara MacMullan said that conservation would become especially important as oil prices continue to rise, and it would be helpful to have suggestions for businesses.
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