B.I. Wind Farm: Fact vs. fiction

Project Manager aims to dispel misinformation
Fri, 08/07/2015 - 8:30am

Deepwater Wind, the company constructing the Block Island Wind Farm, has been questioned about the veracity of the information that has been provided to the public since the company first signed on to build the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Attempting to dispel some of the misinformation associated with the project, Project Manager Bryan Wilson conducted an informational slideshow presentation for about 40 people on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 4 as part of the Block Island Maritime Institute's (BIMI) summer lecture series.

“This is a state project. It started as a state project,” said Wilson, while giving a history of the project, which he noted began under the tenure and influence of former Gov. Donald Carcieri. “Deepwater Wind came in as one of the applicants, but it was initiated by the state.”

Wilson said that the project is “very personal” for him and that everything he was presenting was "factual." He stressed that a strong desire in protecting the environment has been considered while constructing the wind farm and said that, “We are at a watershed moment on Block Island.”

“The benefits will be lower energy bills,” said Wilson, who sees no reason for Block Island Power Co. (BIPCo) to maintain its diesel generators. “Currently five-eighths of our electric bill is the fuel adjustment charge. That can lead our power bills to be 50 or 60 cents a kilowatt hour. That’s crippling, not only for residents like myself, but organizations like this (BIMI), or businesses that are trying to make all of their money in a very short period of time. When you’re paying $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000 a month for a power bill you have to sell a lot of T-shirts, hot dogs or meals just to meet that.”

Wilson noted that the Electric Utilities Task Group (EUTG) is estimating that the wind farm will lead to a “40 percent reduction in power bills” on Block Island. “A 40 percent reduction will be a real boon to this community, in the sense that we will have money to invest in so many other critical things like infrastructure improvements,” he said.

Wilson said that fiber optics would be included in the National Grid owned cable. “The town is working diligently to figure out how to plug that in to our current copper campus around the island, and see how it may prove beneficial to Internet and cellphone service.”

Wilson described in detail the overview for construction of the pilot wind farm project in 90 feet of ocean water. He said that the 30-megawatt wind farm will consist of five wind turbines, each containing three blades 240 feet in length, on structures that will stand 600 feet tall in an ideal wind zone, three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island.

He said that the wind turbine foundations for the project will be durable enough to withstand a 1,000-year storm and will have a 20-year lifespan. Wilson noted that there is a $7.5 million fund in place for decommissioning the project.

After hearing Wilson's presentation, two important and compelling facts seemed to resonate the loudest concerning the project. The first is, unlike the 38 Studios debacle, the State of Rhode Island is not on the hook for taxpayer dollars for the financing of the $290 million Block Island Wind Farm. The other is that there will be no need for the Block Island Power Company to maintain operation of its backup diesel generators after the wind farm becomes operational in the fall of 2016 since the utility will be classified solely as a distributor.

During his presentation, Wilson said that $50 million from the investment firm D.E. Shaw and two other banks are financing the Block Island Wind Farm. National Grid is financing the $107 million 20-mile transmission cable system that will connect Block Island to the mainland. No tax dollars have been utilized to fund any portion of the wind farm project.

“It’s not like 38 Studios. This is private sector money that went into this,” said Wilson. “Fifty million [dollars] got invested by D.E. Shaw, our principal owner, before any of the permits were even in place. The balance of the money is coming from banks. If this project stopped right now, the State of Rhode Island would be on the hook for zero (dollars). Not a penny.”

Wilson said that BIPCo has an interest in keeping two to five of its diesel generators operating, and explained that diesel fuel for emergency backup generation, if needed, could easily be transported to the island on tankers.

“Deepwater Wind is not a party to that (the BIPCo and National Grid relationship),” said Wilson. “National Grid will take all of the electrons. We’ve agreed to sell all of our electrons to National Grid. They own the cable from the mainland to the island and back. They will be the party negotiating agreements with BIPCo.”

Wilson noted that the “possibility of cable failure is almost zero, because of the way it’s designed, and the cable depth that it’s buried to.” The armored cable will be buried six feet beneath the seabed and encased in plastic and concrete underground.

“Quite honestly, if BIPCo decommissioned all of its diesel (generators)” and “there was a failure, a compromise to the cable, and there was no electron flow to Block Island, two tractor-trailers could get on a chartered boat and be out here in a very short period of time and plug in,” said Wilson. "We’ve done it before, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it in the future.”

Wilson said that “speculation about BIPCo providing diesel generation for the mainland grid is a non-starter. It’s just not going to happen. It’s absurd. Nobody in their right mind in ISO is even remotely interested in some dirty electrons from the Block Island Power Company.”

ISO (Independent System Operators) is an independent, non-profit Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) that services the energy needs for New England.

"The biggest benefit of the wind farm is getting rid of the diesel fuel," said BIMI President Jack Lynch following Wilson’s presentation.

Other misinformation that Wilson wanted to dispel was that the wind farm would not reduce energy rates, generate a flicker effect, be noisy, kill birds, open the door to the building of additional wind turbines at the site, and that politics would have a negative influence on the project. Wilson said, “Politics has worked very well here.”

Wilson emphasized that protection of wildlife is “important” and that bird kills are directly attributable to improperly placed wind farms.

Deepwater Wind has said that it plans on building another wind farm about 16 miles off the mainland coast that will consist of 200 machines, and will unveil the Block Island Wind Farm in the fall of 2016.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and the spring of 2017,” said EUTG member Bill Penn, referring to BIPCo and energy rate issues. "But the train has left the station and it's going 150 miles per hour, and it will take an act of God to derail it."