Two Rhode Island towns – Little Compton and Middletown – seek a full seat at the table as the Energy Facility Siting Board considers an application from Mayflower Wind to bury a power cable beneath the Sakonnet River.
The board Thursday morning met at R.I. Public Utilities Commission headquarters in Warwick. Members heard oral arguments for and against granting the two coastal towns “intervenor status.”
Intervenor status would give the municipalities power to summon witnesses and gain greater access to information about the project. The cable wouldn’t touch the shores of Little Compton or Middletown, but a lawyer for the two towns – Marisa Desautel – argued that construction could affect the town’s economy anyway. She mentioned items such as boat moorings, recreational fishing, swimming, and restaurant revenue as potential concerns.
A lawyer for Mayflower Wind argued against allowing intervention by the two towns, saying their interests are already adequately represented by other intervenors or by state agencies. Mayflower is represented in the case by Christian Capizzo of the Providence-based Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP.
Public Utilities Commission chair Ronald T. Gerwatowski eventually directed the opposing parties to confer with each other to craft a limited form of intervention – one perhaps narrowly tailored to the towns’ particularized interests.
“This is not an all-or-nothing proposition,” Gerwatowski said. “It’s not as simple as yes or no.”
The board will issue a decision on intervention at a later date, the chairman said.
Portsmouth, as a “host community,” may intervene as a matter of right. Kevin P. Gavin, an attorney for Portsmouth, said he did not object to Middletown and Little Compton’s petition.
The cable, as planned, would travel from an offshore wind farm that’s planned 50 miles off the Rhode island coast. It would snake up the Sakonnet River between the two communities, and make landfall at Portsmouth. The high-voltage power line would burrow under Aquidneck Island, exit at Mount Hope Bay, and continue underwater to Brayton Point in Somerset, Massachusetts, where it would connect to the New England power grid.
The siting board did not take public comment at the preliminary hearing but promised to do so at a later date.
Mayflower Wind will need other approvals for its cable from the R.I. Dept. of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council. Most permitting for Mayflower Wind is being done on the federal level. But Rhode Island has jurisdiction to the extent that the export cable travels through state land or waters.
On Aquidneck Island, the developers say they need two work areas to set up a horizontal drilling operation. The total project area in Rhode Island consists of nearly 139 acres, including 135.4 acres of undersea land area and 3.5 acres of onshore area.
The company also plans a cable landing in Falmouth on Cape Cod, but Rhode Island has no jurisdiction over that matter.
Mayflower Wind is a partnership between Shell PLC (NYSE: SHEL) and the Madrid-based Ocean Winds, itself a joint venture between energy giants EDP Renewables and ENGIE.
It has ocean lease rights adequate to develop 2,400 megawatts of capacity. It has a contract in place to deliver about half of that energy to Massachusetts utilities. New England states have been procuring offshore wind capacity to meet their clean power goals.
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