The Electric Utility Task Group received a preliminary proposal this week to install a wind farm on Block Island consisting of between six and 20 vertical axis wind turbines as a solution for the island’s high electricity rates.
The proposal was presented by CBC, a Warwick company that specializes in business development, design and project management, at the task group’s Tuesday, June 21, meeting. CBC presented two options: a half dozen 250 kiloWatt turbines, with supplemental power coming from diesel generation; or a 20-turbine farm with a cable to the mainland.
CBC is working with the Spring House to explore the possibility of installing a turbine on its property. Owner Frank DiBiase put the company in contact with the EUTG.
CBC also proposed a plan to add many small turbines to residential properties as another way to help reign in electricity costs, but the task group members did not think that was a good approach.
The company explains that vertical axis turbines have some benefits over traditional turbines, as they can be placed lower to the ground and do not harm birds or bats.
The three members of the task group present, Bill Penn, Everett Shorey and Barbara McMullen, had lots of questions. Penn wondered how the financing would work and Shorey asked technical questions about how the new type of turbines operate. The group has explored land-based turbines in the past but they’re not popular on the island after problems with small existing turbines.
CBC said the turbines would cost roughly $1 million each, while the mainland cable would cost $50 million.
Block Island Power Company Chief Executive Officer Cliff McGinnes Sr. said that CBC should offer to install a demonstration turbine at their own cost at the power company to prove the viability of its design. CBC representative Robert Baxter said that he would be willing to discuss that as an option.
Deepwater Wind Liaison Bryan Wilson said after the meeting that he was skeptical of the proposal due to technical concerns over vertical axis wind turbines. He also noted that the development costs quoted by the company and the timeframe it estimated the project could be completed in showed a “lack of experience in reality.”
Wilson further stated that he would welcome an “apples to apples comparison” of the CBC proposal with the Deepwater Wind demonstration project, proposed for three miles south east of Block Island.
The task group discussed its plans to hold a community forum in the fall to develop a consensus of how to solve the island’s high electricity rate. The group voted to recommend to the Town Council that it help fund the forum using the Consensus Building Institute, a private mediating company, at a cost of $4,400, with help from community organizations like the Block Island Residents Association.
EUTG member Bill Penn said that BIRA had concerns that the meeting would be either ineffectual or too contentious; however, he noted that did not mean they would not support the effort.
EUTG member Everett Shorey said that whether the group comes to a consensus is not necessarily the most important achievement of the event. He explained that he hoped it would open up a dialogue.
“My hope is that this would be the start of a community organizing process,” Shorey said. “I think that is the real benefit [of holding the forum].”
The forum will likely be held in late September or early October and will span several days, tackling the different ways the island can reduce its electricity costs.
Wilson gave the task group an update on the status of the Deepwater Wind Block Island demonstration project. Wilson said the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which is currently considering an appeal to last year’s Public Utilities Commission decision to approve a Power Purchase Agreement between Deepwater and National Grid by industrial concerns Toray and Polytop Plastics, has yet to render a decision.
Wilson said he expected that a decision would be rendered by early July. Should the decision favor Deepwater it would then begin the Army Corp of Engineer’s permitting process.
Wilson said that this process would also include significant involvement by the Coastal Resources Management Council.
There will be another Deepwater informational meeting on Block Island on July 22 that will feature several Deepwater officials. Wilson said they hope to have Deepwater CEO Bill Moore attend to address financing concerns that have been brought up by various island residents.
Wilson also said that a new SeaZephIR buoy is moving through the design phase. The first SeaZephIR, which was moored off the island for several weeks to collect wind data, suffered a failure that caused it to break from its mooring.
The task group reviewed open meetings rules and emphasized that emails sent from one member of the group to another should not be replied to as to avoid holding an illegal “rolling meeting.”
The Attorney General’s office recently completed an investigation of the EUTG for allegedly breaking an open meetings law last fall by improperly exchanging emails between its members. It found that it had violated the open meetings laws but it had not been a “willful or knowing violation.”
It also found that the town had not violated the Access to Public Records laws.
The Attorney General’s Office will not be pursuing any action against the task group but warned that the incident “may serve as evidence of a willful and knowing violation in any similar future situation.”
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