Ørsted to fund its cable re-do

At the Fred Benson Town Beach
Thu, 06/20/2019 - 6:30pm
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The cost of reinstalling a section of one of the two cables off town beach that has been exposed — the Deepwater Wind/Ørsted’s transmission cable — will be paid for by Ørsted and not passed off to the public, says the company.

The other cable is owned by National Grid, and that company has stated that the cost of reinstalling a section of its sea2shore cable might be shared by mainland and island ratepayers. 

National Grid and Ørsted’s cables became exposed due to shifting sands and dense sediment in the surf zone at the beach. Both cables are a component of the Block Island Wind Farm. National Grid’s sea2shore cable connects the island to the mainland, while Ørsted’s export cable links the wind farm to the island’s electrical grid.

When reached for comment, Meaghan Wims, spokesperson for Deepwater Wind/Ørsted, said, “Ørsted will pay for any repairs needed with our Block Island Wind Farm cable, as our power contract does not provide for passing any such costs onto ratepayers.” She noted that the company was “in the design phase of a plan to reinstall a limited section” of its cable. “At the same time, we’re exploring whether there are other methods to ensure the cable maintains a proper long-term burial depth.”  

Michael Masseur, a spokesman for National Grid, said, “Based on our surveys, we've had, at times, up to approximately 100 feet of cable exposed in an area between 50 and 150 feet seaward of the low tide mark. We're estimating 1,500 to 2,000 feet of new cable that would extend from the beach parking lot out into the water.”

On June 6, National Grid representatives held an informational session at the Block Island Visitor’s Center, when John Lamontagne, Director of National Grid’s Strategic Communications, said the cable reinstallation cost might be socialized; meaning ratepayers on Block Island, and the mainland, would be on the hook for the cost. There is also the cost of running the Block Island Utility District’s diesel generators, to provide power to the island community, when National Grid’s cable is shut down during the reinstallation process.

New Shoreham Town Manager Ed Roberge said the town “remains active and involved in the design and permitting process” regarding National Grid’s cable reinstallation plans. “The design will be finalized later this year. National Grid will be holding a follow up meeting in August, which we will attend to get more information. They want to have the complete design done by the end of the year, so the project can go out to bid.” 

New Shoreham town officials, including Roberge, and Facilities Manager Sam Bird, have been seeking a long-term solution since the cables became exposed in August of 2018. Roberge said National Grid intends to commence the reinstallation process in October of 2020. “I’m writing a report that I will be bringing to the Town Council concerning the project,” said Roberge, who noted that he is working on an agreement with National Grid for maintaining, monitoring, and enforcement of a buoy field designating a no-anchor zone at Town Beach.

Roberge said the town received $189,450 from National Grid last year for allowing deployment of a no-anchor zone at the beach. He said this year’s agreement would come with a similar price tag. “It’s the same premise.” The $189,450 has been assigned to the town’s Infrastructure Fund, established in 2015, to finance future renovations and improvements to the town’s infrastructure. The balance of that fund, including National Grid’s payment, is $508,920.

The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council has been monitoring the issue with the cables at the town beach. Laura Dwyer, a spokesperson for the CRMC, informed The Times that the agency has “an enforcement order” on both of the cables. The CRMC has ordered both companies to reinstall their cables by the spring of 2021.

“National Grid is definitely going to directionally drill from land,” said Dwyer. “Accretion has occurred at both cable locations, so that provides a bit of a buffer, but all parties are still moving forward with the permanent solution.” In layman’s terms, Dwyer meant that sand has accumulated over both of the cables, but shifting sands may expose them again, and a long-term solution has been ordered.

The reinstallation project, which officials from National Grid have called “complex,” will involve splicing the cable offshore and on land, and installing two new manholes in the beach parking lot. Town officials said they would evaluate the design plans to see if they go outside the designated easement area. There is also the matter of addressing the existing manholes and the conduit located under the dunes.

As for the wind farm, in two months it will be the third anniversary of its completion. The final blade was installed on turbine number five on August 18, 2016. It began providing power to the island nine months later, on May 1, 2017, when the Block Island Power Company’s diesel generators were turned off.