Last Friday Deepwater Wind Chief Development Officer Paul Rich updated the Electric Utility Task Group on the status of the wind farm project proposed for three miles southeast of the island.
The state Public Utilities Commission approved a Purchase Price Agreement (PPA) for the project last summer that calls for National Grid to pay Deepwater no more than 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour in the first year of a 20-year contract; the price would go up 3.5 percent annually. The PUC approval has been appealed to the state Supreme Court by two industrial users, Polytop and Toray, which object to the higher energy prices they will be forced to pay. The Conservation Law Foundation has also appealed, finding fault with the legislative process that led to the approval.
This month the Supreme Court asked the appellants to prove their standing in the court. According to Rich, the court has 60 days to decide whether the appealing parties have standing, though he thinks a decision will be rendered sooner than that.
Assuming the Supreme Court determines one or more parties has standing, it will consider the arguments presented for and against the PUC’s decision on the PPA. The Supreme Court will likely return a decision on the appeal in June or July.
Assuming the appeals are denied, said Rich, the Block Island project could then move into the permitting phase. Depending on when the court rules and how long the permitting phase takes, Rich said that the construction timeline for the farm “could slip into another year.”
As for federal loan guarantees that Deepwater has been pursuing, which expire in 2012, Rich said their renewal is questionable due to possible federal budget cuts. When asked what losing the loan guarantee would mean for the project Rich said, “Whether that will make or break the project is going to be continued to be reviewed.”
Spar buoy analysis
The SeaZephIR spar buoy, a wind measuring system that was briefly deployed off the island’s west side before suffering a structural failure, is back in Quonset Point undergoing a “forensic analysis.”
According to Deepwater island liaison Bryan Wilson, the buoy somehow came detached from its mooring but he would not speculate on the cause. Wilson said that the hard drive and back-up storage systems were recovered and proved the system functioned properly to collect wind data; however, he said they “obviously had some issues.”
“This was a prototype and that’s why you test them,” Rich said. “It’s a shame, but the important thing is that the [island] team was able to respond.”
Community Energy Forum
Voicing frustration over the lack of movement in solving the island’s energy issues the EUTG voted to recommend the Town Council convene a Community Energy Forum this summer to determine how island residents would prefer to move forward.
Task group member Everett Shorey summed up the focus of such a forum with a question; “OK folks, we’re heading to 60-cent [per kWh] power again, what should we do about it?”
The group discussed the options available, from a cable to the mainland, which members said would prove too costly if shouldered by the island ratepayers alone, to municipal wind turbines, which Shorey said, “we’ve pretty conclusively proven we can’t do ourselves.”
The task group envisioned a meeting in June, after summer residents return, to open a dialog about what path the community should take.
Smart grid tech
Following up on discussion at the Island Energy Plan Committee’s April meeting the EUTG took up the issue of smart grid technology that could be implemented when the island’s electric distribution system is upgraded.
A smart grid could help reduce the load on the Block Island Power Company generators, allow for remote metering and for adjusting the rate structure to provide hourly rate changes.
BIPCo Chief Operating Officer Cliff McGinnes Sr. said that while some aspects of a smart grid would benefit the island, others would only be possible with a mainland cable. Task group chair Barbara MacMullan said that a better understanding of the costs and benefits of such a system would be necessary before deciding on how to go forward. MacMullan suggested that the group invite an expert from Apergee Inc., a company formed by URI graduates that specializes in transitioning to smart grid technology, to visit the island for the task group’s next meeting.
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