The landing site of an underwater transmission cable connecting Block Island with the mainland was the focus of a public meeting held with Deepwater Wind in Narragansett Tuesday night. As part of its proposal to create a five-turbine wind farm three miles off Block Island, Deepwater Wind has agreed to fund the 21-mile cable to transmit 90 percent of the wind power to National Grid’s power system.
The transmission line would run from Old Harbor on Block Island, wind around Point Judith’s rocky shoal and land at Narragansett Town Beach, where it would connect to National Grid’s system by poles and a switching station.
A presentation by Deepwater Wind’s CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, titled “Benefits for the Town of Narragansett,” said that the town would reap money, jobs and a new power source but residents questioned why alternate sites weren’t identified for landing the cable on the mainland. Some suggested the line be brought by a more direct route through South Kingstown, Charlestown or Westerly. Narragansett town officials reiterated that no final decisions have been made about where the cable will land or how it will connect to the power grid.
Several Block Island residents attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the project, including Town Councilors Sean McGarry and Chris Warfel. “The cheapest option is for Block Island to develop its own power,” Warfel said. “I ask Narragansett not to allow itself to be manipulated like Block Island has.”
First Warden Kim Gaffett told the Narragansett Town Council that the island is divided about the project but that the Town Council supported it in a recent vote. She suggested that both towns meet to discuss concerns. “The town supported it but it is a mixed community,” she said. “Block Island does not want to be a bad neighbor.”
Block Island part-time resident Maggie Delia said that there is no need for a $205 million wind farm project when Block Island simply needs a transmission cable that could be installed for about $50 million. “It’s all about the money,” she said. “I’m asking you to consider that this [project] doesn’t have to happen at all.”
Some in attendance laughed when Grybowski said that the project would make Narragansett “one of the greatest communities in America” because it would be a part of the first offshore wind farm developed in the United States. After his 30-minute presentation the public raised concerns about how the line would affect the town beach, town aesthetics and environmental issues.
“Why can’t it go through Charlestown where the telephone cables are?” asked Narragansett resident Mary Wojciechowski.
Grybowski said that those lines were installed many years before permitting processes were put in place to protect the coastline. He said the company studied the entire southern coast to find the best location to bring the cable to the mainland.
“The fastest, cheapest and closest area was Narragansett,” he said.
Grybowski said that construction at Narragansett’s town beach would be done in the offseason and that because the cable would be buried 10 feet below the beach residents would see little impact. The underwater cable would traverse from the beach to two manholes built it the beach’s south parking lot then connect to above-ground power poles that will be replaced along Narragansett Avenue. The medium-voltage cable will then connect to a switching station about one mile west of the beach on property that is now home to a Parks and Recreation Department garage.
During previous public hearings, Deepwater Wind had proposed burying the power line along this route. Grybowski said that existing underground utilities along Narragansett Avenue make burying the cable costly and time consuming. Instead Deepwater wants to replace existing poles with poles that are 5 feet to 10 feet taller. The new cable would run at the top of those poles, with existing power lines still underneath.
Residents were concerned that such tall poles would make the town look “industrial” and also questioned if children who play at Sprague Park or attend the elementary school along the route would be in any danger.
Others at the meeting were more concerned about the overall wind farm project. Commercial fisherman Brian Loftes of South Kingstown questioned the motives of the project investors and the record of Deepwater Wind’s parent company, First Wind. “The people who build and install these get rich and we pay for it,” Loftes said.
Loftes noted that there will be a 24 cent increase on kilowatt hours when the wind farm gets completed, an agreement approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
Others raised concerns about the electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that the cable would cause underwater and its effect on fish and wildlife. Tina Jackson, president of the American Alliance of Fishermen and their Communities, said that studies show that navigational miscues are found in fish that have habitats near EMPs. The underwater segment of the cable will be buried only 6-feet deep.
“That’s not deep enough and it runs right through fishing grounds,” she said. “This is an extremely bad project and bad for Rhode Island.”
A minority of the nearly 75-member audience supported the proposal and said it would benefit Narragansett and the state by creating 200 construction jobs and bring enough power for 17,000 homes. “I hope it happens here,” said David Pereira of Narragansett. “I don’t see too many negatives … you can get on board or you can miss the boat.”
Narragansett Town Council members said more public meetings would be held on the cable and that staff would continue to work with Deepwater Wind to address issues raised during the meeting.
Grybowski said that if the line into Narragansett is not approved, Deepwater Wind would suffer a “significant setback” in its plans to begin construction by summer or fall. About half of the work to build the 650-feet tall wind turbines will be completed at Quonset, the other half will be completed in the Gulf of Mexico, Grybowski said. He noted that construction would not begin until all approvals are in place.
“This line is critical to the project,” Grybowski said. “We only get paid by National Grid when power reaches the mainland.
Grybowski said that Deepwater Wind is “very close” to reaching an agreement with National Grid. The company is still acquiring state and federal permits for the project.
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