The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council has ordered National Grid and Deepwater Wind/Ørsted to reinstall sections of their underwater transmission cables that became exposed due to shifting sands and dense sediment at Fred Benson Town Beach. Representatives from the town, the CRMC, and National Grid have all said the reinstallation will be complex and expensive.
The CRMC met with the two companies on Tuesday, May 14, and gave them the order to reinstall their cables by the spring of 2021. Ted Kresse, Director of Strategic Communications for National Grid, told The Times that it did not have a cost estimate yet for the project, but the President of the Block Island Utility District said it should be “very expensive.”
“The engineering and design for the cable reinstallation is complex,” said Kresse, who noted that many of the “details still need to be fleshed out.” Grid has “begun the process of engineering a permanent solution using horizontal directional drilling, but it will take time to complete the design and determine potential costs of the project.”
Grid is considering conducting its horizontal directional drilling from an onshore location. Kresse said the company is “currently targeting late 2020 for the start of construction with an anticipated completion by spring 2021, but that is dependent on a number of factors, including materials procurement, vendor availability, and permitting. The CRMC will likely issue another order to allow the reburial of this portion of the cable once engineering and design is complete.”
The cables are part of the Block Island Wind Farm project. National Grid’s sea2shore cable connects the island to the mainland, while Deepwater Wind/Ørsted’s export cable links the wind farm to Grid’s substation on the Block Island Utility District’s property.
National Grid experienced challenges, including dense sediment in the surf zone, when installing its sea2shore cable at the beach in June of 2016. At that time, the company was encumbered by delays and required a series of deadline extensions to complete the project.
On May 3, 2016, the New Shoreham Town Council offered Grid an extension from May 15 to June 30 at a price tag of $250,000, and $10,000 per day after July 1, which National Grid promptly rejected. First Warden Ken Lacoste said, “There was discussion about extension fees and the consensus was $250,000 but grid announced it would be unable to meet the town’s requirements and completed the work in the unextended time period.”
In early June, 2016, National Grid realized it couldn’t meet an extended deadline of June 22, and agreed to pay the town $9,920 per day of work to extend the deadline to June 30. National Grid also agreed to submit a letter to the town stating it would not oppose the town’s creation of a non-profit co-op to purchase the Block Island Power Company.
So the question is: wouldn’t it have been more beneficial to National Grid to have paid the $250,000 to take the time to properly install its cable?
“National Grid and the town agreed to terms on an extension that afforded National Grid additional time for the initial cable laying and splicing operation between the mainland and Block Island,” said Kresse. “This window of an additional 10 days in June 2016 was requested to accommodate initial construction and weather delays.”
A question ratepayers are probably wondering is: will the reinstallation cost be passed onto the island’s ratepayers?
Jeffery Wright, President of the Block Island Utility District, said, “That has not yet been determined. The current cost sharing formula that National Grid applies and bills us monthly for normally covers operating and maintenance costs. Our argument is this is not operating and maintenance, but rather a mistake on their part, and no costs should be passed on to Block Island at all. I don’t know the cost estimate, but it will be very expensive.”
Wright said the focus now should be on burying the cable. “The Utility District wants to see the cable buried to the proper depth to eliminate the risk of it surfacing again like it did last summer. We are disappointed that the cable wasn’t installed properly to begin with but that is water over the dam. We will do everything we can to support National Grid’s work while maintaining service to the island using our internal generation.”
“During their work the cable will be out of service, which will require us to run the diesel generators,” said Wright. “We will be involved in the outage planning and our influence will hopefully push National Grid to pick a time when loads are light and fuel usage will be minimized.”
As for the potential financial impact to the Utility District, and its ratepayers, Wright said, “We have an agreement with National Grid that they will cover any costs associated with running generation during this outage, so right now I do not believe there will be any cost impact to the Block Island Utility District members.”
“The Utility District is tasked with keeping the lights on during this work, which we are well equipped for with our generation capabilities,” noted Wright. “Unfortunately, there is no back up for the fiber that is run in the submarine cable which means there will be a broadband outage that will also need to be minimized and planned for.”
Town Manager Ed Roberge said, “We expect outage of the broadband connection to the Community Anchor Institutions during the splicing operations and have begun discussions regarding schedule and support. Final design of the subsea cable relocation is still underway so until final details including design, schedule and commissioning of the new connection are made available, details on impacts to the town’s broadband connection cannot be determined.”
Roberge said, “Since early last year, the town has supported, if not argued the absolute necessity of lowering or relocating the subsea cable off the Town Beach on Block Island. We have worked closely with the CRMC and appreciate their continued support and direction they’ve given to National Grid and Deepwater Wind/Ørsted.”
As for Deepwater Wind/Ørsted’s cable, Meaghan Wims, a spokesperson for the company, said, “We are currently in the design phase of a plan to reinstall a limited segment of the Block Island Wind Farm cable. In parallel, we are exploring whether there are other methods to ensure that the cable is maintained at a proper depth, long-term. We are working closely with the Town, the Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council and National Grid to deliver the solution expeditiously.”