NARRAGANSETT – The Town Council held a firm line with representatives from Deepwater Wind Monday, voting unanimously to reject a motion to cosign utility permit applications with state agencies that are necessary to connect a 15-mile underground transmission line across Block Island Sound to the mainland grid.
A delegation from Providence-based Deepwater was requesting permission from the council to grant the town the authority to cosign the applications, which would be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council. Though it is customary for the town to cosign utility applications when public rights of way are included in an application, council members Monday asked for more information before moving forward.
Deepwater, the company developing the 30-megawatt demonstration-scale wind farm off Block Island, wants to connect the island to the mainland Rhode Island grid. The transmission line is needed because Block Island will use only 10 percent of the energy generated by the farm. Deepwater has determined that Narragansett Pier is the best location for the transmission line to make a landing and connect with the mainland grid.
In order to do this, Deepwater and the town will need to reach an easement agreement, which would likely include some form of compensation. At Monday’s meeting, council members were hesitant to authorize Town Manager Grady Miller to cosign the utility applications until the details of a potential compensation package are outlined.
“I think it is extremely premature to sign or cosign anything. For me, I need a lot more specifics about what that compensation, or other form of consideration, would be for us to put our name remotely close to this,” said Council President Glenna Hagopian. “I want to see what you are bringing to the table before we move forward.”
“My advice is you don’t sign anything until you have a deal wrapped up that you approve,” said Town Solicitor Mark A. McSally.
In December, Deepwater identified Gazebo Park as the desired location to make the connection, a process that would have taken eight weeks, with a large drill and a concrete coffer dam 1,500 feet offshore. On Monday, Deepwater representatives said further study suggests the southern section of the town beach is the best location to connect the transmission line to the mainland.
Paul Murphy, engineer at Deepwater, said construction at the beach would occur during the off-season, would likely take less time and would allow a straightforward approach to land through the softer subsurface at the town beach.
Murphy said the decision to explore a landing at the beach was made because it is unclear how deep the sea wall extends into the surface. “We haven’t been able to come across ‘as built’ engineering drawing to determine the depth of the sea wall,” said Murphy.
Two similar cables installed within the last 20 years between Harwich and Barnstable, Mass., and Nantucket made landfall at beaches, said Murphy.
Construction of the Block Island Wind Farm – expected to be the first offshore wind farm in the United States – is slated to begin in 2013 and continue through 2014.
If the transmission line is grounded at the beach, it would proceed from Beach Street to Caswell and Wanda streets before connecting with Kingstown and Mumford roads in Narragansett before crossing into South Kingstown near Route 1. The line would follow Old Tower Hill Road before heading north onto the property behind Wakefield Mall, eventually connecting with an existing National Grid overhead transmission line on a privately owned parcel.
“I think you’re right in the ‘maybe’ zone right now,” said Councilman Christopher Wilkens.
Though it was Deepwater’s first formal presentation to the council, the company held an open house in December to inform residents about the project.
“A propaganda show … is not a public hearing, but a public shmoozing or a love fest,” said resident Richard Vangermeersch.
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