NARRAGANSETT – During Wednesday’s hearing in Narragansett Town Hall, opponents of Deepwater Wind’s demonstration-scale wind farm off the coast of Block Island repeated many of their past points to state Department of Environmental Management representative Ron Gagnon: The project will increase ratepayers electric bills; the landing of a transmission cable will disturb Scarborough State Beach and fishing waters; and the Town Council already unanimously rejected a landing on town property.
Many attendees, who spoke at DEM’s three-hour public hearing for Deepwater Wind’s application for a dredging permit and water quality certificate, reiterated arguments they made Dec. 4 at a State Properties Committee meeting in Providence. That committee voted to grant Deepwater Wind two easements for the landing of its transmission cable on state land in Narragansett.
Deepwater Wind proposes to build a demonstration-sized wind farm with five turbines off the coast of Block Island. The farm will supply all of the island’s energy needs, with 90 percent of capacity to spare. The rest of the power would be sold to National Grid and sent to the mainland via an underwater transmission cable that would make landfall at Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett and travel via cable under state roads to a switchyard near the Dillon Rotary
The wind farm is projected to cost $205 million, with the installation of the cable an additional $60 to $70 million. Those costs will be passed on to National Grid’s customers in Rhode Island. Deepwater Wind officials have estimated the farm will generate six jobs.
Senator Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35) of Narragansett, South Kingstown, East Greenwich and North Kingstown argued state residents should not have to pay the costs of constructing the wind farm and burying the cable – costs that would be made up with higher National Grid electric bills.
“All this money comes from the public and out of our pocket. We will have nothing to show for this but six jobs and some politicians who can tell you that they stopped climate change,” Hodgson said. Instead of funding Deepwater Wind’s project, the money could be used to insulate homes of low-income residents, and fund science and engineering programs at state universities, he said.
DEM has the opportunity to stop the project on a procedural basis, Hodgson said, in spite of pressure to push the project through the permitting process.
“I know you’re in a rough position,” Hodgson said the DEM representatives. “The elite political leadership of this state – the insiders – they want this to happen. Significant pressure will be brought to bear to see it through to get the deal done.”
“When we put aside the platitudes about this project, we see this is a bad deal for Narragansett, for Rhode Island and for the environment. The increased energy costs associated with this project are at a conservative estimate [based on the Public Utilities’ Commission docket 4111] at $390 million. We’ve heard estimates much higher dwarfing that number,” Narragansett Councilman Matthew Mannix said. “The [state] Department of Environmental Management is supposed to be our steward for the environment, so I ask [DEM] to make sure this is a project that will have a positive impact on our environment, because based on what I’ve heard, I’m not convinced.”
Many attendees also spoke in favor of the project including members of the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, who cited the need for the United States to embrace clean alternatives to coal and natural gas. New Shoreham residents and officials also spoke in favor of Deepwater Wind’s project primarily because it will connect the community to the mainland electric grid, thus lowering their electric bills.
“Our position is Block Island desperately needs a cable to the mainland to offset the high costs of electricity. It’s crippling our local economy to the point of failure,” said New Shoreham Councilman Norris Pike.
Pike expressed frustration with the faction of Narragansett residents who oppose the project’s landing at Scarborough State Beach.
“If Block Island had a chance to say ‘no’ to Narragansett, and they needed a cable, I hope we’d be friendlier than Narragansett has been to us. I don’t understand it, but it’s local politics at its worst,” Pike said.
Before construction of the five-turbine wind farm can begin, Deepwater Wind must receive federal and state permits from agencies such as DEM, the Coastal Resources Management Council and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Utility permits to run the cable under Burnside Avenue and Route 108 in Narragansett also will be vetted. No date was set for a decision from DEM.
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