How the wind powers the island

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 10:15am
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The Block Island Power Company and its ratepayers began receiving wind-generated electricity produced by the Block Island Wind Farm for the very first time on Monday, May 1. 

The question of whether the electrons produced by the Block Island Wind Farm will be delivered directly to Block Island’s ratepayers has been the subject of debate. The answer appears to be that Block Island, and its ratepayers, will receive electrons that are generated by the wind farm. The island will only receive mainland electricity when the wind farm is not generating enough power to meet demand.  

The wind farm is capable of producing 30 megawatts of power daily; with each of its five wind turbines capable of generating six megawatts per day. Block Island requires one megawatt daily to power the entire island in the winter, and about four to five megawatts during the peak summer season. Energy that is not used on the island will be delivered to the mainland electrical grid. 

“Physically, if the wind farm is generating and transporting power to the mainland via the cable, the Block Island Power Company is using electrons supplied by the wind farm before they head across to the mainland,” BIPCo Interim President Jeffery Wright told The Block Island Times. “If the wind is not generating, the power flows are reversed on the cable and our electrons are then coming from the ISO-NE grid.” ISO-NE stands for Independent System Operators of New England, and is an independent, non-profit Regional Transmission Organization.

Wright explained that the electricity from the wind farm is delivered to National Grid’s substation, and then through the interconnection to BIPCo, where it is then distributed to the island’s ratepayers. On the rare occasion when there is no wind-generated power coming from the wind farm the process is reversed; energy is delivered from the mainland to the substations on the island and to the wind farm.

Michael Masseur, a spokesman for National Grid, said, “Technically, there is no mechanism in place that would allow the Block Island Power Company to directly choose where the power to the island comes from. If the wind farm is producing enough electricity to meet the demand of the island, then BIPCo would physically receive its power from the wind farm, with any excess flowing to the mainland. If the wind farm is not generating enough power to meet island electric demand, then electricity will be delivered via the submarine cable from the mainland. That is what physically happens, and that happens automatically.”

Masseur added that “contractually, it’s different. The financial transaction is that BIPCo is procuring 100 percent of its energy needs from the wholesale market and National Grid is procuring 100 percent of the Block Island Wind Farm output. The metering that’s installed on the system allows us to keep track of these transactions.”

“BIPCo is buying their energy from a supplier who will generate energy and deliver it to the ISO-NE grid,” said Wright. “That will satisfy our power supply obligations to the ISO pool of customers, or participants, who each are responsible for their own load obligation. This is all done through contracts and on paper.”

BIPCo has signed an 18-month contract with Shell Energy North America. After that, Wright said, the BIPCo board could contract with whoever it wants as a power supplier, which could include a renewable energy supplier.

A major benefit of the connection to the wind farm is the cost reduction associated with the silencing, or limited use, of the diesel generators. Wright said that last year BIPCo used one million gallons of diesel fuel to power the island, but now that BIPCo is receiving wind power he expects the company to use under 1,000 gallons for the coming year. BIPCo’s diesel engines will only be used as backup generation for emergencies.