Last week Deepwater Wind publicly released the report that helped sway the offshore wind farm company into planning on a much longer route for the undersea transmission cable that will link its five-turbine project to the mainland power grid. The cable, which will be owned by National Grid, is expected to cost $40 million to $50 million.
A direct north-south route from the Block Island-based substation to mainland Rhode Island would have taken the cable into Charlestown. But Deepwater is planning on running the cable to the east and up Narragansett Bay.
The Critical Issues Analysis report for the Charlestown landing site gives a host of reasons why, detailing five “potentially critical issues” and three “issues of concern.” The critical issues included bedrock near the surface in several areas that is an important lobster habitat and would make horizontal directional drilling infeasible; aquatic vegetation around the salt pond region that would need to be avoided; the fact that salt ponds themselves might need to be crossed, which would add permitting and mitigation costs; potential contamination from the North Cape spill, which happened to the east of the landing site and could rule the site out entirely if the level of contamination was found to be significant; and Narragansett tribal areas along the onshore route. The “issues of concern” were all in regard to the landward part of the route, which would cross conservation land, wildlife refuges and scenic areas.
All of these issues have been mentioned by Deepwater representatives in the past; however, this is the first written report to be released on those issues. The report was done by Tetra Tech EC, Inc., and used mapping and historical data to evaluate the Charlestown landing site.
The study goes into further detail on each issue and proposes possible solutions, such as testing the sediment to determine if it is contaminated with oil. It also includes a number of maps detailing the cable siting and submarine features that need to be avoided like shipwrecks.
Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm Manager Bryan Wilson was at a meeting of the island’s Electric Utility Task Group on Friday, January 20, to present the report. He also commented on an older report from consulting firm HDR, commissioned by New Shoreham several years ago, that estimated a standalone cable from the island to Charlestown would cost $18 million.
Wilson said that the older estimate excluded critical elements of the project, such as permitting costs and the cost of constructing the two necessary substations.
Wilson said that Deepwater was spending $9.3 million on the Block Island substation alone. While a standalone cable would require a smaller substation, Wilson said it would still be several million. He went on to call the HDR cost assessment “flawed” and added, “$18 million was never a real number.”
The town is hoping to join with the Block Island Power Company to present a joint request to the Public Utilities Commission for an upgrade of the island’s electric distribution system. The EUTG is working with Richard La Capra of La Capra Associates and BIPCo to form the proposal.
The group has been working to straighten out issues with the estimated costs. For example, BIPCo CEO Cliff McGinnes Sr. estimated installing smart meters on the island would cost $100,000, while La Capra said it would be much more, approximately $500,000.
The town and BIPCo will continue to iron out the discrepancies before submitting the proposal.
The EUTG continued to refine a slide show that presents the costs and benefits to various methods of reducing the island’s energy costs. The group plans to take the slide show – a pared down version of the one presented at the October island energy forum – to various island interest groups. They are hoping to visit the Chamber of Commerce at its meeting in March or April and are working with the fire and rescue squad to schedule a time to present it to them.
A plan to make distributed solar generation easier on the island is in limbo until several state and federal laws are passed.
If not for issues at the state and federal level, the town could pass an ordinance to allow property owners to finance alternative energy project through the town with the debt service added to the property owner’s individual tax bill.
The issues that are being discussed at the federal level center around mortgage lenders. The way this type of law is structured attaches a lien on the property taking advantage of it. Many lenders will not make loans for properties with liens against them.
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