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Locals react to Deepwater turbine plans

Dozens of Narragansett, South Kingstown and other residents from across the state had many questions and suggestions for Deepwater Wind’s proposed underground transmission line that would link the turbines to the mainland.

Residents found out last week that chances are they won’t notice much as Deepwater Wind gets ready to plug its Block Island wind farm into South County’s power grid over the next two years.

“This is your fairly routine, garden variety conduit installation,” said Bill Moore, CEO, explaining what installation of the Block Island Transmission System might look like to locals. “Routine, at least, through the paved roadways.”

But the power coursing through Deepwater’s 15-mile underground transmission line would be anything but routine. After powering nearly all of Block Island, the five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm off Block Island’s coast would channel all its unused power through the cable and – possibly – right into your living room.

Wind energy could generate enough extra juice to light up about 10,000 South County homes for a year, according to Clinton Plummer, vice president of development with Deepwater Wind. The transmission line would also serve Block Island when its turbines do not catch enough wind and supplement the island’s electricity needs.

The transmission line would make landfall at the Narragansett Pier through the seawall and follow a route through Narragansett’s Gazebo Park, Beach Street, Narragansett Avenue, Wanda Street, Strathmore Road, Kingstown Road and up Mumford Road. Crossing into South Kingstown on East Narragansett Avenue, it would cross Route 1 between Narragansett Avenue and Old Tower Hill Road to Kelley Way and end at a private transmission station on Albro Lane before feeding into National Grid’s network.

Dozens from South County and across the state peeked in on last Wednesday night’s open house at Narragansett Elementary School, studying throngs of poster boards and firing off questions about the project to Deepwater personnel. Most were curious; some had suggestions. But one man worried the project could cost him more than a couple of days dealing with a ripped up roadway.

“I fish extensively around the area where they will run that cable,” said Pete Brodeur, who works out of Point Judith. “My concern was the disruption of lobster resources at that side of Point Judith and Narragansett where the cable will go in. It’s all very rocky habitat.”

Legislation limiting catch amounts crippled South County’s fishing industry in recent years and Brodeur said more trawlers could be pushed out if the two-year construction timeline drives away sea life.

“As far as the fishing industry is concerned this will be a total disruption to the area no matter what,” agreed Tina Jackson, fisherman and president of the American Alliance of Fishermen and their Communities. “No matter how much they say about environmental sensitivity, to say it won’t disrupt ecosystems couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Deepwater, however, said running the connection through the Narragansett Pier puts it in one of the sandiest areas and, although it is not the shortest distance from the offshore wind farm to landfall, it is away from the environmental and engineering hazards of the rocky south shore.

According to Vincent Murray, South Kingstown planning director, the company is undergoing environmental surveys in areas where it could lay the transmission line. He said the company also needs to gain permitting from state Coastal Resources Management Council, the state Department of Environmental Management and from the town to build the Albro Street transmission station.

Narragansett resident David Tiberio, of Wanda Street, was concerned about his neighborhood being ripped up twice in the name of going green.

“I’m not so concerned that there will be any real physical danger once it is in the ground, but if the bike path is going to run through the same path, why not lay it in the same track,” he said.

Grady Miller, Narragansett’s town manager, said maintenance on the underground utility lines would be hindered by pedestrian use of the bike path. Wetland areas along the bike path could pose an issue as well, he said.

“But remember, right now these are what we are looking at as possibilities,” he added.

The $205 million wind farm and $50 million to $55 million transmission line installation could be done by 2014, according to Moore. The project will create 100 – 200 construction jobs during development and retain up to six skilled technicians after construction finishes.

Green energy advocate Liz Marsis, director of Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light, ventured down to learn more about the wind farm.

“I think the education of local people to where the power lines are and what studies were done to take care of endangered species, how they are moving the power and why this is a good place is important,” she said. “It’s responsible corporate behavior to take the time to talk with the community.”