PROVIDENCE – The State Properties Committee approved two easements between Deepwater Wind and state agencies for the installation of the company’s transmission cable in Narragansett. The committee of three voting members voted 2-0 in favor of the easements, with Richard B. Woolley, the representative of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, abstaining, at the meeting that was held on Wednesday, Dec. 4.
After nixing plans to connect its wind farm off the coast of Block Island to the mainland electric grid via Narragansett Town Beach, Deepwater proposed the Scarborough State Beach alternative. The underwater, buried cable would make landfall north of the recreation area at Scarborough and cross Ocean Road to a Department of Environmental Management parking lot. From there, the cable would run west down Burnside Ave., and then north on Route 108 to the switchyard near the Dillon Rotary. All proposed construction would avoid Narragansett-owned property, in accordance with the Town Council’s unanimous vote in August denying Deepwater construction permits.
One easement through the state Department of Transportation (DEM) allows the construction of the switchyard, and the other allows the installation of the buried cable across Ocean Road. Easements to run the cable on Burnside Ave. and Route 108 have not been vetted.
National Grid will install the cable and assume ownership of it, but the discussion of terms between Deepwater and National Grid is ongoing, said Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski. The installation of the cable will cost between $60 and $70 million, in addition to the projected $205 million it will cost to construct the five-turbine wind farm.
When Christopher Feisthamel, representing state Treasurer Gina Raimondo (and a non-voting member), asked if ratepayers would assume the cost of the cable’s installation, Grybowski responded, “That’s correct.”
Before the easements change hands, Deepwater must first attain all requisite federal and state permits for the project. With agencies such as the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Army Corps of Engineers studying the project, Feisthamel asked why the committee must approve the easements at this time. “I would feel more comfortable with permits and an approved environmental impact study in front of us,” he said. DEM’s legal counsel Mary Kay replied that permitting agencies must know the specific landing site of the project before they will vet the project for approval.
“We really see this as no significant impact to the public use or environmentally for that section [of construction],” DEM Associate Director of Natural Resources Larry Mouradjian told the committee.
Recognizing the strong emotions in favor and against the project, Chairman Ronald N. Renaud allowed members of the public, including council members from New Shoreham and Narragansett, the opportunity to speak in front of the committee – something he acknowledged was not typical.
First Warden Kimberley Gaffett and Councilman Norris Pike spoke in favor of the project, saying it would finally connect New Shoreham to the mainland electric grid.
“A lot of our economy is year-round people who can’t afford large electric bills, although we have the largest electric bills in the United States,” said Pike. “If Deepwater fails for some reason – and I hope it doesn’t – we need to cable to National Grid, bottom line.”
In addition to lowering electricity costs, the cable would allow residents the option to purchase high-speed internet, something the schools, Block Island Health Center and Town Hall need, Gaffett added.
Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35) of Narragansett, South Kingstown, East Greenwich and North Kingstown, implored the committee to vote against granting the easements.
“I object to this project in the strongest possible terms on behalf of my constituents, on behalf of the individuals and business ratepayers across this whole state,” he said. “Deepwater Wind’s project represents a terrible public policy decision, and it is a breakdown of fiduciary responsibility across multiple levels of government.”
He acknowledged Rhode Island must diversify its energy portfolio with clean alternatives, but argued this project could jeopardize the future of clean energy. “It is my proposition to you that an investment such as this will do long-term damage to the credibility of renewable energies and even to the possibility of wind power offshore,” he said
Renaud noted that he received approximately “four dozen” letters in support of the project and only a “one or two” in opposition.
Woolley voiced Kilmartin’s concern that the easements are being vetted in a piecemeal manner and the possible disruption of traffic during construction.
Residents will have another opportunity to air their grievances or support for Deepwater Wind’s project. DEM will hold a public hearing to vet Deepwater’s application for a modification to a state dredge permit and a water quality certificate at Narragansett Town Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 6 p.m.
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