I do not think that the Narragansett Town Council will permit Deepwater Wind to funnel electricity from its Block Island wind farm through Narragansett.
Deepwater Wind, owned by a $30 billon investment firm, intends to build a wind-farm pilot project near Block Island to serve the island’s needs and transmit the remaining 90 percent of electricity generated into National Grid’s Northeastern grid. It has proposed running an underwater cable from the wind farm under Narragansett beach and across Sprague Park to National Grid’s switching station in Wakefield.
The Narragansett community seemed content with the project as long as the landlines were to run underground.
The fury of the community erupted when a switch was made from an underground to abnormally high and unsightly above-ground cables, except for those running under the beach. The abrupt change in course caused many to distrust Deepwater Wind.
The basic attitude of a vocal part of the population was “don’t mess with the beach; don’t mess with the town.” With a new town council in place, President James Callaghan stated publicly: “When you think about it, this is not the best for the town when it goes through our most precious resource.”
The community forces against the proposal are active and vocal. In an interview, Callahan told me that his constituent e-mail on the subject has been predominantly against the project. An organization called deepwateresistance.org is rallying opposition forces.
Most of the capacity crowd at a question-and-answer meeting between the Town Council and Jeff Grybowski, Deepwater Wind’s chief executive officer, was against the proposal, if applause is any gauge. There have been a large number of negative newspaper opinion pieces in a lively press debate. Finally, some community members consider the plans to run Deepwater’s transmission cable under the town beach simply a violation of the spirit and heart of the town.
Support for the program has been muted, at best.
There have been minor concerns expressed about the project that I think should bear little on the decision:
First, there is no conclusive evidence to support the claim of some that electromagnetic emissions from the beach cable might harm people.
Second, the power will be fed into National Grid’s Northeast power grid. Any increase in consumer rates because of the wind farm’s higher wholesale prices will be insignificant, and swamped by National Grid’s normal prices and future increases. As large, efficient wind farms are developed, decreases in cost as much as 40 percent are possible, according to Grybowski.
Third, I think that there is little chance of major technical and maintenance problems with the proven undersea and underground cable systems.
So what’s at stake? For Deepwater Wind, time and money. Narragansett is the closest and least expensive landfall for the company. Though others exist, and are being actively surveyed and pursued, including the University of Rhode Island’s Bay campus, putting it there would cost more and take longer.
Deepwater Wind is in a race to get its wind farm up and running before other potential rivals in the Rhode Island-Massachusetts area. This would give it credibility in bidding for other, larger programs. Grybowski is certain that a change from the Narragansett site to another will not jeopardize its planned late 2014 completion of the transmission line, and 2015 start-up of the turbines.
There is virtually no reason for Narragansett to approve the project. Deepwater Wind offered $2.25 million as compensation for easements for the transmission lines. This is an insignificant sum, particularly if paid over the 20-year life of the wind farm and compared with the town budget, which is around $50 million a year. I doubt that a substantial increase in the payment would have much bearing on the decision. Though five permanent and 200 construction jobs will be created from the project, it is unlikely that many of these will accrue to the community’s benefit.
On what basis will the Town Council make a decision? Callaghan told me that he “wouldn’t discount any factors that might determine the vote on [Deepwater Wind’s] proposal.” He thinks, however, that the council’s vote will probably depend on each member’s input from his or her constituents. And those inputs will come from e-mails, phone calls and personal contact with other residents.
The decision will be made at a public Town Council meeting at some time in the future. There seems to be no urgency on the council’s part. As Callahan said: “There has been no timetable established.”
Is the negativity toward Deepwater Wind a case of NIMBYism (not in my back yard)? Yes. I am in favor of wind power. I just don’t want the Deepwater transmission lines to go through Narragansett. Don’t mess with the town’s treasure. The Town Council, of course, will have the final word.
C. Davis Fogg is a writer who lives in Wakefield.
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