Block Island ratepayers may pay for cable re-do

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 5:00pm
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Block Island ratepayers may pay for cable re-do

By Cassius Shuman

Block Island ratepayers may be footing part of the bill to reinstall a section of exposed transmission cable at Fred Benson Town Beach, according to a National Grid spokeman.

“There is a possibility that the cost will be socialized” among Block Island and mainland ratepayers, said John Lamontagne, Director of Strategic Communications for National Grid, during a visit to Block Island on Thursday, June 6. The company could not say how much the reinstallation would cost, as plans are still being developed.

Block Island Utility District President Jeffery Wright did not mince words in reacting to the news.

“I’m shocked that National Grid would try to saddle any of their ratepayers, including on Block Island, with anything associated with a cable that was not installed correctly to begin with,” said Wright.

He then added that National Grid “had offered to pay for our fuel (that was used to run the generators during the planned three-day outage this past week), and now that has been taken off the table. That’s going to be a huge cost for us.”

Wright said he did hope that the state Division of Utilities and Carriers “will advocate for minimal costs for all Rhode Ialand ratepayers” in terms of paying for the cable reinstallation.

National Grid hosted two informational sessions at the Visitor’s Center in Old Harbor that day, during which it updated the public on its plans to reinstall a section of their sea2shore cable that has become exposed at the Town Beach. Lamontagne said National Grid was on the island “to educate folks. We wanted people to get answers from us about the process,” instead of information having to come through Town Manager Ed Roberge, or Sam Bird, the town’s Facilities Manager.

National Grid’s sea2shore cable is part of the electrical transmission system associated with the Block Island Wind Farm. Deepwater Wind/Ørsted, the company that constructed the wind farm, is facing the same issue with its export cable at the town beach. National Grid’s cable links the island to the mainland, while Ørsted’s cable links the wind farm to the island’s electrical grid.

The cables became exposed due to shifting sands and dense sediment in the surf zone at the town beach. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council has ordered both companies to reinstall the exposed section of their cables by the spring of 2021.

“Our goal is to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future,” said Erin Whoriskey, National Grid’s Senior Environmental Scientist. “We apologize to the town for the inconvenience.”

The inconvenience Whoriskey was referring to was the disruption caused by National Grid having to install a no-anchor zone using buoys during the busy summer season, as well as planned power outages to conduct surveys and other work on its cable. The problem with the exposed cable has created headaches for the Town of New Shoreham and its officials who have demanded a long-term solution.

As for how confident National Grid is in its plans for reinstalling the cable, David Campilii, an Engineer for National Grid, said, “We looked at a bunch of alternatives, and we’re the most confident in this design, that the cable will never be seen again.”

National Grid’s plans for reinstallation, which are still being developed, will involve horizontal directional drilling from a manhole at the beach parking lot out to about 1,500 feet to 2,000 feet offshore. Campilii said the cable would resurface in about 20 feet of water. The cable will be threaded through a conduit from the parking lot to a barge, spliced at both ends, and then submerged. The cable will then either be reburied at that depth, or have concrete mattresses placed over it to keep it submerged.

Campilii said National Grid needs to conduct an instrument survey later this year to assess the condition of the sea floor to inform the design process before reinstallation begins.

For now, National Grid will be installing buoys at the beach to prevent boats from dragging their anchors where the cable is located.

“We want folks to know that it’s safe,” said Lamontagne. “We don’t want to stop people from enjoying the beach.”