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Officials testify wind farm won’t hurt environment

NARRAGANSETT – Deepwater Wind employees and contractors involved in the proposed Block Island Wind Farm project testified for slightly more than three hours Tuesday night, telling the state Coastal Resources Management Council Ocean Special Area Management Plan Subcommittee that the demonstration-scale offshore wind farm would have limited impact on wildlife and coastal resources.

In front of a packed crowd in Corless Auditorium on the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus, Deepwater Wind legal counsel Robin Main questioned company representatives and contractors to highlight what the company has done to ensure the project won’t adversely affect the environment, and how the company plans to mitigate any projected issues.

Deepwater Wind proposes to construct a five-turbine wind farm off the coast of Block Island. Ten percent of the energy generated will meet New Shoreham’s needs and the remainder will be transferred to the mainland via an underwater transmission line that will land at Scarborough State Beach.

“We decided early on to put together a world-class team that consists of in-house expertise that we recruited into Deepwater [Wind],” CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said. “We’ve also assembled, I think, a world-class team of experts in specific fields like avian biology.”

As the first of its kind in the U.S., some guidelines regulating requisite studies and construction are lacking, leaving Deepwater Wind the opportunity to set the precedents for the country’s offshore wind industry, Grybowski said.

Deepwater Wind has spent approximately $40 million prior to construction on engineering, permitting and “groundbreaking” studies, according to Grybowski, including the collection of 30 months of data on bird activity. The company also has agreed to limit the installation of the turbine foundations to dates after May 1, so as not to conflict with the migration patterns of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

During the installation of the farm’s foundation, the company will establish a process to compensate affected fishermen for their hardship, Vice President of Permitting and Environmental Affairs Aileen Kenney said.

In addition to animal and marine life, the company also addressed the resilience of the proposed structures. The turbines and their foundations could withstand “the waves, the winds, the current, the weather, the ‘Sandys’ of the world, in fact, the 100-year storm,” Project Director Robert Billington said.

CRMC Subcommittee member Tony Affigne requested information about weather-related offshore turbine failures in other parts of the world be included in a future hearing.

In a report published prior to the hearing, CRMC staff said it had no objections to the project, so long as CRMC adopted certain stipulations regulating construction.The subcommittee approved the scheduling of a meeting between Deepwater Wind and CRMC staff to resolve those stipulations before the next hearing on New Shoreham Feb. 24.

Representatives from the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club Rhode Island chapter and Environment Rhode Island all spoke in favor of the project, as they have done at previous public hearings.

“The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce has been a vocal advocate of the Block Island Wind Farm project. As a member of the business community, we are eager to see the Block Island Wind Farm built,” Executive Director Laurie White said. “Indeed, the nation is watching whether Rhode Island will, in fact, capitalize on this opportunity to jumpstart a new clean technology industry right here.”

At the start of the hearing, CRMC Chairwoman Anne Maxwell Livingston said the subcommittee would limit testimony and public comment to three-and-a-half or four hours. By the time public comment began three hours into the hearing, some of the 60 attendees registered to speak had already left. When Livingston called Deepwater Resistance Chairman Robert Shields to speak, he said he would need approximately 15 to 20 minutes, to which Livingston said he should speak at a hearing in Narragansett tentatively scheduled for Feb. 27.