Cable talks continue despite wind farm announcement

Mon, 10/06/2008 - 5:00am
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Chris Barrett

A group advising the town manager on the viability of installing a power cable to the mainland will continue its work, even after the announcement that a wind farm planned off the coast will include a cable to the island.

Town Manager Nancy Dodge said too many questions remained unanswered, including whether the island could purchase electricity from the mainland grid through the wind farm’s cable and sell excess energy back. And the farm’s location is not expected to be determined until 2010, leading some to question whether wind farm developer Deepwater Wind would still include the cable if the farm were located far from Block Island.

Last week the chief operating officer of Deepwater Wind said those answers would come later, but the company hoped to install the cable by 2012 and complete the 100-turbine project by 2014.

Until Deepwater can provide those answers, Dodge wants a final analysis on whether a cable is a wise move.

“I think we need to have a definite answer on what would a cable cost if we or the power company or some other entity was contemplating it,” Dodge said.

Advisory group member Mary Jane Balser, one of the island’s staunchest proponents of a cable, also thought the group should continue its work. Calling the wind farm’s projected completion date overly ambitious and the project far from a sure thing, Balser said having an alternative option couldn’t hurt.

“We need to continue to work so we are at least working in tandem in case this should fall by the wayside like every other wind farm,” Balser said.

Balser pointed out a proposal to build a huge wind farm off the coast of Long Island recently fell apart and that Deepwater has never built a wind farm. She and Dodge also noted the challenges of funding the construction such a farm, which Deepwater expects to cost more than $1.5 billion. While Deepwater has cited DE Shaw & Co. and Ospraie Management as investors, Ospraie has been linked to the recently failed Lehman Brothers. And it’s unclear what effect the plummeting stock market might have on Deepwater’s ability to secure private capital.

Energy Task Force

Members of the Energy Task Force — which has opposed installing a cable — said this week they would continue to push alternatives.

“I’ve seen so many things come out of the state Energy Office that have not come to fruition and that have struggled so I just don’t think we should rely on that [project] at this point,” task force member Chris Warfel said.

Warfel said he would like to see the group continue its three-prong approach that would include erecting a wind turbine, installing solar panels on town buildings and creating programs to help low and fixed-income residents conserve energy. He said those projects would still be worth the investment even if Deepwater laid a cable at no cost to the town.

“Everything that we looked at has a very good return on investment,” he said. “It’s a good place for taxpayer dollars as far as making money for the taxpayer so that doesn’t change.”

Fellow task force member Barbara MacMullan said she thought the group should take a wait-and-see approach before investing additional time or money into studying a cable.

“I do think that given the possibility that we may get a cable from this project should weigh heavily on any decision to invest ratepayer funds,” she said.