Rhode Island panel OKs Deepwater Wind’s plan for transmission cable to land at Scarborough State Beach
PROVIDENCE – Deepwater Wind’s plan to build a demonstration wind farm in waters off Block Island cleared a key hurdle on Wednesday when state officials approved agreements that will allow the underwater transmission cable from the wind farm to make landfall at Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett.
After a more than three-hour meeting, the State Properties Committee voted 2 to 0 in favor of easements that would be granted by the state Department of Environmental Management and the state Department of Transportation in return for $1.7 million in total compensation.
Under Deepwater’s plan, which still requires permits from the state Coastal Resources Management Council and other agencies, the cable would run under the state 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 DOT or the DEM.
The meeting was attended by dozens of people, including a contingent of town officials from New Shoreham who support the proposed five-turbine wind farm and a group from Narragansett who worry about the effect of cable construction on the town.
In an unusual move, Ron Renaud, chairman of the committee, allowed members of the public to offer comments on the project.
“I know this is a passionate issue for many,” Renaud said.
Of the 20 people who spoke, 8 were in opposition to the project and 12 were in support. Renaud said he also received four-dozen letters in favor of the project and a half-dozen against it.
After presentations by representatives from the DOT, DEM and Deepwater, Renaud and member Robert Griffith, who represents the state Department of Administration, voted for the easement agreements. Member Richard Woolley, representative of the attorney general’s office, abstained.
Before the vote, Woolley said that Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has concerns about the Deepwater project. Specifically in regard to the cable, Woolley said that Kilmartin believes the state should receive additional compensation from Deepwater because it would be digging up state roads in an area that receives a lot of traffic.
“I don’t think the attorney general’s concerns have been adequately addressed,” Woolley said.
The easement agreement with the DOT covers only property where Deepwater plans to build its switchyard, in the area known as Dillon’s Corner. The portion of work being done on Route 108 and Burnside Avenue in Narragansett will be covered by utility permits in an administrative process that will not include a compensatory payment.
Annette Jacques, lawyer for the DOT, said her agency is following longstanding regulations in dealing with the roadwork as an administrative matter. Woolley, however, suggested that the Deepwater project is a unique matter and should be handled differently.
“That’s a policy question as to whether or not that is how we are going to proceed,” Jacques responded.
The agreements approved on Wednesday include payments for the easements based on independent appraisals – $169,750 to the DEM and $205,088 to the DOT. The DEM will also receive an additional $350,000 for landscaping and other improvements to the entire Scarborough State Beach complex. And Deepwater has committed to annual payments of $100,000 over a 10-year-period for upgrades to state parks.
Approval of the easements represents an important victory for Providence-based Deepwater. Without them, the company would have to find an alternative landing site for the $60 million to $70 million cable, which is crucial to the overall project.
Deepwater’s 30-megawatt wind farm, which would be built in state waters about 3 miles southeast of Block Island, has the potential to generate much more power than the island’s tiny year-round population 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.
At the properties committee meeting, Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater, spoke extensively about the medium-voltage cable and how it will be situated. It will run from the wind farm to Block Island and then travel the 18 miles to Scarborough in a trench 6 feet under the sea floor.
The 34.5-kilovolt cable would then be threaded through a PVC conduit 10 feet under the beach. The 6-inch diameter cable includes two layers of steel armor, two layers of high-density plastic armor and insulation.
What happens if something like superstorm Sandy occurs again and sweeps away the sand over the cable and somehow the cable is breached, asked Renaud.
Nothing, responded Grybowski. The cable will detect any fault within a 10th of a second and shut down, said Paul Murphy, engineer with Deepwater.
“There is zero risk,” said Grybowski.
Construction of the cable will take place in the off-season, between October and May. Larry Mouradjian, associate director for natural resources at the DEM, said there will be no significant impact on public use of the beach or on the environment.
“We should not see or even know the utility is even there,” he said.
Still, several Narragansett residents were not convinced and pointed to larger questions about the wind farm, including the effect on the weak state economy of the price of its power, which starts at 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour, many times higher than the price from fossil fuel facilities.
“For me, this is about stopping a terrible deal for the people of Rhode Island,” said state Sen. Dawson Hodgson, a Republican who represents part of Narragansett and is considering challenging Kilmartin.
But Block Island residents said that the cable will allow the island to finally take the expensive diesel generators they use for electricity off line. The island’s electric rates have at times been the highest in the nation. Last year, they averaged 54.2 cents a kilowatt hour.
“It’s crucial to Block Island’s future to be connected,” said Norris Pike, member of the New Shoreham Town Council.
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