NARRAGANSETT – Wariness about Deepwater Wind’s proposed offshore wind farm was clear at Tuesday’s public workshop at Town Hall. Concerns include the visual impact and consequences of running the transmission lines on poles, higher electric prices on the mainland and the efficiency and sustainability of wind turbines.
In the three-and-a-half hour workshop with the Town Council, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski presented his company’s plan for the wind farm, which will be located off the coast of Block Island, listened to public feedback and answered questions.
The proposal has not changed from the vision presented in an environmental report Deepwater published in September. The company plans to connect the wind farm to the mainland Rhode Island grid to make use of excess energy capacity. Deepwater has proposed Narragansett Pier as the best location to land that line, and an overhead transmission line supported by 40 poles – which would replace existing poles along Narragansett Avenue and be lengthened by five to 10 feet. The overhead line would connect to a switch yard near Sprague Park.
But at an open house in December 2011, Deepwater officials assured residents the transmission line would be buried underground.
“We came to the conclusion the overhead route is the better route,” Grybowski said. “The real complication with the underground route is there’s a lot of utilities already under the road. When you bury a line, you have to deal with all those utilities. It’s a complicated, expensive process.”
There also would be benefits in replacing the utility poles, Grybowski said. “It will be a stronger system, better able to withstand storms.”
National Grid would purchase all the power generated by the turbines for 20 years and operate the transmission line, while Deepwater would remain responsible for the wind farm.
“The wind farm is only paid by National Grid when the energy is delivered to the mainland, so Deepwater Wind has every incentive to make sure that the line we build is engineered to a very high standard,” Grybowski said.
After 20 years of operation, the wind farm would be decommissioned, with National Grid retaining ownership of the transmission line.
When pressed to explain this time frame by Councilman Douglas McLaughlin, Grybowski said Deepwater only possesses the permits for “a certain amount of time” and there are issues with long-term maintenance for the offshore wind turbines.
But he said there are still advantages to the plan, citing local job creation and strengthening the reliability of Narragansett’s electric system.
Deepwater has had an option to lease property at the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown since 2009. If the company receives approval for the project, Quonset would house the construction of 50 percent of the structural steel for the project. There would be 200 local construction jobs associated with the project, Grybowski said.
“How much is this going to cost the taxpayers of Narragansett on their electric bill?” McLaughlin asked.
Grybowski said the wind farm and transmission system would cost residents an additional $1.30 per month on their electric bills.
After fielding questions from the Council, the public had a chance to speak, and many of the comments against the wind farm were met with applause.
“In 2010, the Hawaii Free Press, exposed First Wind [a Deepwater investor] for wind fraud on the island of Oahu. There are rotting turbines all along the coast of Hawaii,” said Tina Jackson, president of the American Alliance of Fisherman. “What’s being perpetrated here is the furthest thing from a green energy project.”
In addition to concerns about the company, Jackson has doubts about the efficiency of wind turbines.
“As far as efficiency goes, Deepwater’s trying to tell everyone they are 45 percent efficient. There is not a turbine on the face of this earth that is more than 22 percent efficient,” she said.
Members from the New Shoreham Town Council attended the meeting, traveling to the mainland Tuesday night, in advance of an Ocean Special Area Management Plan Subcommittee public hearing Wednesday about Deepwater’s request for an application fee waiver.
“When I looked at those pictures [from the presentation], my first thought was embarrassment,” Councilman Sean McGarry said. “This need of mine was adversely affecting this neighbor of mine. I cherish our relationship and hope it remains strong.”
“We don’t need Deepwater’s help. Deepwater investors need Block Island’s and Narragansett’s help,” said Councilman Chris Warfel.
Warfel, who has 25 years of industry experience in energy production, refuted the idea Deepwater Wind’s proposal is the most cost-effective green opportunity on the market. He said a combination of solar and onshore wind energy would meet the island’s energy needs at an estimated cost between $15 and 17 million.
“Do not allow Narragansett to be manipulated like Block Island has,” he said.
Former New Shoreham Councilwoman Kim Gaffety offered a different perspective.
“We have so far supported the project, and I wanted to temper any view you may have heard tonight that the town is largely against it. That’s largely not the case,” she said. “It is a mixed community between those who think it’s a good project and those who don’t.”
Narragansett residents said the taller poles would detract from the views of the historic homes on Narragansett Avenue and Sprague Park. Some felt alternative landing points for the transmission line would make more sense than landing at the Pier. But some support the project’s job creation.
Resident Jeremy McCarthy reminded the Council of its power to determine the project’s fate.
“You can turn this project down. You five people have the power to deny this project no matter what the [state] Coastal Resources Management Council says, no matter what the [U.S.] Army Corps of Engineers says,” he said.
Councilman Matthew Mannix commended the residents who attended the workshop.
“I was newly elected and I felt that way too much was being done behind closed doors,” he said. “You have to stay involved and keep the Council accountable.”
The Council has not voted to grant Deepwater approval for the landing or the transmission line. No date has been set for a vote.
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