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Wind farm is a bad deal for Rhode Island

On Feb. 27, the state Coastal Resources Management Council Ocean Special Area Management Plan subcommittee heard testimony regarding the Deepwater Wind Block Island wind farm proposal. I was there to present a straightforward, factual critique of the staff report. I phrased my comments to be helpful, not acrimonious.

Before I began, however, I was advised by Anne Maxwell Livingston, the chairwoman, to limit the length of my comments to 15 minutes or less – a limitation not imposed on any other speaker. Then, about three-quarters though my presentation, I was abruptly halted by a shout from the audience. Livingston informed me I had just uttered the unspeakable words “the price of alternative power sources,” and that I should wrap up my comments. I then skipped important paragraphs to accede to this request.

We at Deepwater Resistance take strong exception to this stipulation, because anybody at the meeting would have noticed it was selectively enforced. By my observation, no proponent was prevented from presenting socioeconomic comments. Nearly all opponents, when alluding to them, were interrupted by the chairwoman. Those of us who were interrupted were furthermore lectured by the chairwoman on the inadmissibility of such testimony.

Some comments I was prevented from speaking at the meeting include:

• Two recent developments have brought the price of alternative power sources into the spotlight. First, the state Public Utilities Commission has approved a power purchase agreement between Champlain Wind and National Grid RI for power generated in Maine using land-based turbines. The price will be 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour and does not include a cost escalation factor. It’s a matter of public record that both Connecticut and Massachusetts are negotiating agreements for terrestrial wind farms and solar generation at 8 to 9 cents per kWh.

In stark contrast, the Deepwater Wind Block Island proposal was agreed without competitive bidding and at a cost of 24.4 cents per kWh, reaching 46.9 cents in the project’s 20th year. I think I can safely say no other state would even consider such an outrageous price for electricity. The sole socioeconomic benefit is six permanent jobs.

The staff report should at least include mention of the socioeconomic impacts and present them within the context of other alternative energy sources. Three local solar sites are now, or soon will be, operating that could be used to compare the production costs. Since the PUC has been prohibited from exercising that oversight role, then I submit the CRMC should. If we in Rhode Island do not take such steps, then we deserve what we get.

• Second, at December’s Conference of New England Governors, in its closing policy statement, they endorsed the following alternative power sources: an upgraded regional grid, Canadian hydropower, solar, terrestrial wind and natural gas. Significantly omitted from their list was offshore wind. During an interview Jan. 8 on R.I. Public Radio, Governor Chafee announced his endorsement of that compact. What more does CRMC need to know?

We are very attuned to what is happening with other offshore projects. For example, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston against Cape Wind (The Boston Globe, Jan. 22, 2014) has raised federal constitutional concerns about the 2010 act by the Rhode Island legislature that facilitated the PUC’s approval of Deepwater Wind Block Island’s electric rate. The suit contends Massachusetts illegally required the local utility to sign a long-term contract requiring them to pay for 19 cent power. Courts in Maryland and New Jersey have previously ruled this privilege was reserved for the federal government and declared such agreements unconstitutional. This is indeed a huge elephant.

We at Deepwater Resistance believe such one-sided favoritism needs to be brought to the readers’ attention. I believe I presented only facts, not opinions, in my testimony, and that I was properly entitled to do so. If a whole class of Rhode Island citizens is not allowed to be heard fully, then we will be forever trampled by a deaf bureaucracy. Well, this is a political issue, and it happens time and time again in Rhode Island as vested interests dominate our politics.

In this case it’s Deepwater Wind and D.E. Shaw, its Wall Street investment partner, who will drain $595 million from all electricity ratepayers over the expected life of the proposal. This will significantly impact our state’s fragile economic recovery. I would remind everybody this proposal has not yet been, and should not be, approved.

Robert Shields


The author is the chairman of Deepwater Resistance.