Wind farm generates little support; Public gets first chance to speak on permitting for proposed turbines off Block Island
NARRAGANSETT – Nearly 100 people came out Wednesday night to speak out on Deepwater Wind’s $250-million proposal to install five wind turbines in state waters off Block Island and connect them to the mainland through an underwater transmission line.
The occasion was the first of two public hearings before the state Department of Environmental Management on the Providence-based company’s application for a permit to dredge during the installation of the turbines and the power cable, which would make landfall in Narragansett.
It was also the first formal public hearing during the permitting process for any aspect of the project – which Deepwater is hoping will be the first offshore wind farm in the nation – so interest was high.
The state Coastal Resources Management Council, the lead permitting agency for the project, has held subcommittee meetings on the proposal but has yet to schedule any public hearings.
Deepwater plans to install five 6-megawatt wind turbines in waters about three miles southeast of Block Island . An underwater cable, buried in a shallow trench, would connect them to a substation on Block Island, and then run another 22 miles to Narragansett.
On windy days, excess power would be sent to mainland Rhode Island and the regional power grid, while on days when the wind isn’t blowing, power would travel in the opposite direction to Block Island.
At Wednesday’s hearing, several people spoke up in favor of the plan, saying that offshore wind power is a necessary alternative to fossil fuels in an age of climate change.
“Rhode Island is in a unique position to take the lead in combating climate change,” said David Maar, a college student from Narragansett.
His mother, Kirsten Maar, said that Rhode Island can follow the lead of Denmark and other European countries, where offshore wind farms are common.
“We are facing a horrible future in Rhode Island … if we don’t go to renewable energy,” she said.
But they were in the minority at the hearing. Most of the speakers voiced opposition to the project, with many raising larger concerns about wind power in general and the potential effects of such things as shadow flicker and noise.
“I think this is jumping off the cliff,” said Bob Donaldson, a Narragansett resident who described himself as an electrical engineer. “This is going too fast.”
He pointed to the high price of power from the wind farm as a major concern. Deepwater has signed a 20-year contract with utility National Grid that has a starting price for power of 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, several times higher than the price of power from conventional sources.
It was a point taken up by former Rhode Island Attorney General James O’Neill, a longtime opponent to the project. He cited estimates from National Grid that the above-market costs of the wind farm would amount to nearly $500 million over the life of the power purchase agreement.
“That is going to make 38 Studios look like a day at the beach,” he said, referring to former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s failed video game company that received a $75-million loan guarantee from the state.
Dick Grachek, a fisherman from Point Judith, was just as scathing in his assessment of the project.
“To be blunt about it, this has got to be the worst, most ridiculous idea I’ve heard in my life,” he said.
He said that installing the turbines and transmission line would damage vital fishing grounds.
“The windmills will tear up the bottom,” he said. “The transmission lines will tear up the bottom.”
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