WRNI News Director Catherine Welch and a rotating panel of speakers breezed through just about everything most folks would ever want to know about the Block Island Wind Farm at a free community forum Thursday, Sept. 8.
The Sept. 8 forum moderated by Welch drew about 100 people to the top floor of Lippitt Hall at the University of Rhode Island for updates on the environmental and economic impacts of wind energy. URI’s Sea Grant College Program led the research used to develop the nation’s first Ocean Special Area Management Plan. The SAMP covers 1,467 square miles off Rhode Island, including Block Island.
Grover Fugate, executive director of the URI Sea Grant College Program, explained that the SAMP team’s research identified “hot spot” areas of special commercial and environmental value.
Those findings helped Deepwater Wind minimize environmental impact as it sited its five electricity-generating turbines and an underwater cable, said Jeffrey Grybowski, senior vice president for strategy and external affairs for Deepwater Wind.
Grybowski said that offshore wind energy already has a long and successful record in Europe, and Deepwater has consulted fisheries experts and others on the best ways to create its wind farm.
Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, also applauded the SAMP research, though he warned it does not take the place of a formal wind farm environmental impact statement. But Stone said that the environmental costs of installing wind farms must be compared with the true costs of continuing to use fossil fuels. “We understand that renewable energy is critical to our future, and we think there are ways to minimize the environmental impacts,” he noted.
Other speakers including former governor Donald Carcieri discussed the cost of energy from alternative energy sources such as the wind farm and the long-term prospects of building a thriving wind energy industry in New England.
The agreement to sell electricity generated by the Block Island turbines and transmitted by a new underwater cable to National Grid has been challenged in court by The Conservation Law Foundation, North Kingstown’s Toray Plastics and Polytop Corp. The challengers contend that the initial rates and future escalations set to cover constructing and operating the wind farm are excessive.
Grybowski said that the average household would see an additional $1.30 per month in electricity costs as a result of the wind farm. But for large electricity users such as Toray, that translates to millions in additional charges over the next decade.
All new energy sources cost more than existing sources until they grow to reach economies of scale, Grybowski said. He also pointed out that no one can predict whether fossil fuel rates will rise or fall over the next decade.
Doug Hales, assistant professor at the URI College of Business Administration, said that if large wind farms develop off Block Island and Cape Cod, they would generate enough business to create a viable wind farm industry in the area.
Carcieri noted that quayside port facilities like those at Quonset Point are ideal for wind farm “staging.” The turbines are too big and unwieldy for conventional container ports, he said.
Jennifer McCann, director of extension programs for Rhode Island Sea Grant, said the SAMP indicates that existing revenue-generating activities such as sailing races can be protected while new energy-based activities, including eco-tourism, could grow.
The forum was sponsored by WRNI and the Rhode Island Foundation with help from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
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