Block Island reps boost Deepwater to the DEM

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 3:00pm

NARRAGANSETT — Residents and public officials from New Shoreham reiterated their support for Deepwater Wind’s demonstration-scale wind farm off the coast of Block Island at the Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) public hearing Wednesday night at Narragansett Town Hall.

“Our position is Block Island desperately needs a cable to the mainland to offset the high costs of electricity. It’s crippling our local economy to the point of failure,” said Councilor Norris Pike. He expressed frustration with the faction of Narragansett residents who oppose the project’s landing at Scarborough State Beach.

“If Block Island had a chance to say ‘no’ to Narragansett, and they needed a cable, I hope we’d be friendlier than Narragansett has been to us,” Pike said. “I don’t understand it, but it’s local politics at its worst.”

Deepwater Wind initially proposed to connect its wind farm to the mainland grid through a landing at Narragansett Town Beach, but the Narragansett Town Council unanimously voted to deny granting construction easements. Deepwater then submitted the Scarborough alternative and revisions to the environmental report, which is being vetted by state and federal agencies.

The project is expected to meet New Shoreham’s electric needs. National Grid has agreed to a purchasing power agreement with Deepwater and will purchase any excess energy and supply it to mainland Rhode Island.

New Shoreham currently meets its electric needs with diesel fuel — an expensive and is what some may consider an environmentally unfriendly energy source. “Last year, we paid 54.4 cents per kilowatt hour, five times more than what people pay on the mainland,” said New Shoreham resident Bill Penn. He added that reduced energy costs will increase residents’ disposable income, which they will spend on the mainland. “We, as a community, will reduce our carbon footprint and be truly reliant on renewable energy,” he added.

Opponents and supporters of the project offered three hours of comment to DEM’s Chief of the Office of Customer and Technical Assistance Ron Gagnon. The public hearing was held for comments germane to a dredging permit and a water quality certificate, but many attendees spoke about the broader implications of the project, including increased electric bills.

Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski estimates Rhode Island ratepayers will see a $1.30 increase on their monthly electric bills during the first year of the wind farm’s operation. In the first year of the wind farm’s operation, National Grid would purchase the excess energy at a cost of 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. That figure will increase by 3.5 percent each subsequent year of the farm’s 20-year operating life.

“I don’t understand why you’re being asked to consider issues outside of your jurisdiction, especially with regard to the cable, and health and public safety issues as it comes ashore,” said New Shoreham resident Henry duPont.

Representatives from the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation spoke in support of the project. Members of the Deepwater Resistance – a political action committee formed in Narragansett and vocal opponent of the project – criticized the potential environmental disruption at Scarborough, if the project is approved.

State Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35), who represents Narragansett, South Kingstown, North Kingstown and East Greenwich, said he opposes the project on behalf of his constituents and argued it could jeopardize the clean energy movement — a risk Rhode Island should not be willing to take.

“I support renewable energy. This is not about [denying the] existence of climate change; it’s about stopping a terrible deal for the people of Rhode Island and ensuring the credibility for renewable energy,” he said.

DEM, as well as other agencies, such the Coastal Resources Management Council and the Army Corps of Engineers, must grant Deepwater permits before construction can begin.