Proposed deal would let Deepwater Wind run cable from Block Island to Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The State Properties Committee is set to meet Wednesday to consider agreements that would allow Deepwater Wind to bring an underwater electric cable from its proposed Block Island wind farm to Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett.
Under the proposed deal, the cable would run under the beach to a parking lot and then under state roads to a switchyard that would be built next to Route 1. The entire route of the transmission line would be on land owned by either the state Department of Environmental Management or the state Department of Transportation.
The two agencies would be paid a total of $1.7 million for easements on the land by either Deepwater, the Providence-based developer of the five-turbine offshore wind farm that would be built in state waters southeast of Block Island, or National Grid, the regional utility that would likely lay the cable.
The properties committee was originally scheduled to take up the agreements in September but the items were taken off the agenda after opponents to the Deepwater wind farm complained that the public had not been given adequate notice. The cable route was first made public at that time.
The $60-million transmission cable is a crucial part of the offshore wind project, because the 30-megawatt wind farm has the potential to generate much more power than Block Island could use. On windy days, excess power would be sent to the mainland electric grid via the submerged cable. And on days the wind isn’t blowing, Block Island would receive power from the grid through the cable.
Deepwater initially proposed bringing the cable through Narragansett Town Beach but dropped the plan after local residents and elected officials objected to an early scheme to string an electric line overhead through part of the town and also raised concerns about construction at the beach.
Under that plan, the town would have been compensated for the work. Because the current plan uses only state-owned land, the town will receive no payments. The town will also have no oversight of the project.
“I’m deeply disappointed that the transmission cable is proposed to go through Narragansett when the residents of Narragansett spoke out pretty strongly against a connection in their town,” said Town Council member Matthew Mannix, a vocal critic of the project.
When asked about the impact of the current proposal on Narragansett, Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater, said it will not be the same as under the previous proposal.
“It’s a different route entirely,” he said. “It may be in the same town, but there are a lot of differences between the two routes.”
Chief among them is the place where the cable would make landfall, he said. Under the old plan, that site was on the heavily used town beach, leading to concerns that construction would harm tourism and disrupt use of the beach.
Under the new plan, the cable would travel 18 miles underwater from Block Island to Scarborough and make landfall between two storm water outflow pipes north of the main beach area and the two pavilions there. The location is not part of the publicly maintained beach, said Grybowski.
The cable would be buried in a reinforced pipe at least 10 feet under the sand and continue underneath Ocean Road to a state-owned parking lot. From there, Deepwater would bury lines 2 to 5 feet under Burnside Avenue to Route 108 and then to a lot near Route 1 that is owned by the DOT and used to store road salt. The company would build a switchyard there with two shed-like structures to house equipment and would erect 20-foot poles. The switchyard would be shielded from view by vegetation, said Grybowski.
The lines would continue to a substation in the Wakefield section of South Kingstown operated by National Grid.
Deepwater is seeking from the DEM an easement on Scarborough Beach encompassing an area that is 200 feet long, stretching from Ocean Road along the beach to the mean high-water mark. The easement would be 30 feet wide, giving the company room to bury the 6-inch-thick cable.
The easement on the parking lot, which is also owned by the DEM, would cover an area of about 15,000 square feet. All work would be done underground and no structures would be built on the lot.
“The DEM has evaluated the proposed easements and the construction methods and has determined that the easements will have an insignificant impact on the Scarborough Beach property,” DEM director Janet Coit wrote in a Nov. 25 memo to the State Properties Committee.
The agency would be paid $169,750 for the easements, as well as $350,000 for beach improvements. In addition, Deepwater has agreed to pay the agency $1 million over 10 years to create an endowment that would be used to fund improvements to state parks in Rhode Island.
For the easements necessary for the 90-foot by 90-foot switchyard in the area known as Dillon’s Corner near Route 1, the DOT would be paid $205,088.
The agreement that will go to the State Properties Committee does not cover construction on Burnside Avenue and Route 108. That will be taken care of under a separate administrative process for utility permits overseen by the DOT, said Grybowski.
It is still unclear if Deepwater would pay for the easements or if National Grid would. The two sides are still negotiating the details of a cable agreement. Whichever company builds the cable would make payment on the easements. (Deepwater, however, has committed to pay for the parks endowment.)
“It is the current intention of the parties that [National] Grid will do the actual construction of the line,” said Grybowski. “It makes sense for Grid to take it over sooner because they’re in the business of building transmission lines.”
A spokeswoman for National Grid said that the company will take control of the cable project if an agreement with Deepwater is reached and all regulatory approvals are granted.
The Properties Committee meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at the state office building at One Capitol Hill, Providence. The meeting is open to the public.
The new cable route has been filed with the state Coastal Resources Management Council, the lead permitting agency for the Block Island wind farm. The council opened a 30-day public comment period on the change last week. Hearings on the project will follow.
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