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Answering questions on offshore wind

Regarding “R.I. jump-starts offshore-wind industry,” the April 7 commentary by Jeffrey Grybowski, chief executive of Deepwater Wind, which wants to put wind turbines off Block Island. The piece puts a positive spin on offshore wind and avoids most of the important questions that should be asked to make a prudent decision about Rhode Island’s wind-power policy.

Mr. Grybowski seems to feel no obligation to discuss the concerns about offshore wind since he is trying to sell a huge contract for electricity generation.

Some of the questions that Rhode Island citizens, taxpayers and rate payers need to have answered before they can decide on the merits of offshore wind include:

• When would offshore wind be price-competitive with the market price for electricity? The cost of the electricity from the Block Island wind project will be 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour and would increase each year up to 45 cents per kWh by the end of the 20-year contract. Cape Wind, the proposed Nantucket Sound project, would start at 18.7 cents and increase to 30 cents. What would be the cost of electricity from a Rhode Island Phase II utility-scale offshore-wind project?

• Is it valid to compare Rhode Island’s energy situation to that of northern Europe? Mr. Grybowski didn’t mention that with 18.9 percent of its electricity generated by offshore wind, Den-mark’s residential electricity rates are the highest in the European Union, at 40 cents per kWh.

• Data compiled by the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources indicate that the greatest source of carbon-dioxide in Rhode Island is transportation, not the electric-utility sector. Why not focus on this sector if the goal is to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions?

• The conversion from oil- to natural-gas-fired generation in New England has resulted in an 18 percent decrease in carbon-dioxide emissions since 2000. We are the second-lowest region of the country, after the Pacific Northwest, in carbon-dioxide emissions from electricity generation.

Natural-gas use has also resulted in a 40 percent reduction in electricity-generation costs since 2008.

Why not focus on securing a reliable natural-gas supply to New England from our plentiful domestic resources?

• What would be the ramifications of the high cost of wind power on existing employers and jobs? Would there be a net gain in jobs or a net loss from the increased cost of electricity generated from offshore wind?

• Are 200 construction jobs over a two-year construction period from the Block Island wind project worth a $430 million total subsidy over 20 years by Rhode Island ratepayers (that’s over $1 million a year for each job)? Are there better ways to use this money to create jobs and lower carbon dioxide, such as programs for the transportation sector? Expansion of mass transit? Incentives for using alternative-fueled vehicles and building the required infrastructure?

• Why would Rhode Island want to support building the first offshore-wind project when Jeff Grybowski and other experts indicate that the price would decrease as the industry grows? Can Rhode Island afford to be the guinea pig with its high unemployment and poor economy? Can Rhode Island afford to raise the operating costs of its businesses, industry and government to pay for high-priced wind energy?

• How can we be sure that the staging area for the Phase II utility-scale offshore wind project would be in Rhode Island?

The only things we know for sure about offshore wind in Rhode Island are that offshore wind would benefit the investors and management of Deepwater Wind and it would lower the electricity rates of the 1,000 residents of Block Island while raising those for the 1 million Rhode Islanders who live on the mainland.

William H. Ferguson is executive director of the Energy Council of Rhode Island, a group representing electricity consumers in the business sector.