On April 3, the Ocean Special Area Management Plan subcommittee of the state Coastal Resources Management Council accepted the staff report, dated Jan. 24, on the Deepwater Wind Block Island proposal. It will be forwarded to the full council after a few modifications to it are completed. It served as the basis for a CRMC public hearing Feb. 27 – and two earlier hearings – gathering comment on Deepwater Wind’s plan to build a wind farm off Block Island. During those hearings, Anne Maxwell Livingston, chairwoman of the O-SAMP subcommittee, set a rule that any comments on costs of power or on the overall economics of the Deepwater Wind Block Island proposal were inadmissible.
Most proponents of the project were not prevented from presenting economic data. When opponents attempted to do the same thing, they were halted immediately by the chairwoman at the word: ‘price’ of electricity or ‘cost’ to ratepayers.
The whole concept of having a serious discussion of costs was thrown out the window. It was not merely an issue of discrimination against those who had factual information on renewable energy costs, but it appears to go against the fundamental policies enunciated within the O-SAMP document. There are actually many instances in the document where socioeconomic factors are listed as being required information for CRMC to consider to reach a decision approving or rejecting an offshore wind proposal.
To pinpoint the CRMC’s responsibility to consider and evaluate the economics of this proposal, I have reviewed the most important chapters of the CRMC’s Ocean SAMP document to identify where references are made specifically to social and economic aspects of offshore wind proposals. The chapters and sections of the O-SAMP of interest dealing with wind projects are in: Section 8 – Renewable energy and other offshore development and Section 11 – The policies of the Ocean SAMP.
I found numerous references explicitly requiring the CRMC to consider the impact on the state of Rhode Island as a whole, others are more vague. They all, however, either require or allow the submission of a project’s costs and economics to CRMC for their use.
Specifically, in Section 800, page 8, the O-SAMP states:
• One of the objectives of the Ocean SAMP is to encourage marine-based economic development that considers the aspirations of local communities, and is consistent with and complementary to the state’s overall economic development, social and environmental needs and goals.
• Obtaining a portion of Rhode Island’s energy from renewable sources has been a central theme in the recent energy policies of the state. The justification behind renewable energy development in Rhode Island includes: diversifying the energy sources supplying electricity consumed in the state; stabilizing long-term energy prices; enhancing environmental quality, including the reduction of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions; reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels; and creating jobs in Rhode Island in the renewable energy sector. Renewable energy resources offshore have the greatest potential for utility-scale development to meet Rhode Island’s renewable energy goals. The Ocean SAMP area has the potential to provide sites for those resources, which is addressed in this chapter, along with a discussion of the potential effects renewable energy development may have on the economics of Rhode Island, natural resources, and existing uses of the Ocean SAMP area.
In Section 860.1, page 177, the document states:
The Council supports offshore development in the Ocean SAMP area that is consistent with the Ocean SAMP goals which are to:
• Foster a properly functioning ecosystem that can be both ecologically effective and economically beneficial;
• Promote and enhance existing uses;
• Encourage marine-based economic development that considers the aspirations of local communities and is consistent and complementary to the state’s overall economic development needs and goals.
I could go on, but need I quote more? These excerpts from the O-SAMP unequivocally refute the justification by the O-SAMP subcommittee that economics may be excluded from testimony at their three public hearings. I understand the stated CRMC goals are not always compatible, but to disqualify any one category of testimony at the outset is beyond the pale.
We believe this wind farm proposal is without a doubt the most far reaching matter ever to come before the state Coastal Resources Management Council. It’s not merely a request to approve a dock or for setback relief. It is truly precedent setting in many ways. It negatively impacts virtually every resident and business in Rhode Island. The staff report, with respect, reveals signs of having been cobbled together rather hurriedly. This proposal deserves the most diligent scrutiny that the staff and the council have ever given to an application. This proposal is literally new territory, and the report deserves much more attention to detail than the staff report contains. It needs to be withheld until all testimony, ecological and economic, is fully vetted.
What do we now do to rectify this oversight in the CRMC deliberations? Start over and allow economic testimony, that’s what.
The author is the chairman of Deepwater Resistance.
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