Cable without a wind farm?Task group talks Deepwater, transfer station turbine

Mon, 10/26/2009 - 4:00am
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10/24/09 - The town Electric Utility Task Group met Friday, the day after National Grid rejected Deepwater Wind’s proposed power contract, which it called “uneconomic by a significant margin for Rhode Island customers.”

While the fate of Deepwater’s proposed eight-turbine “Block Island Farm” remains in limbo, Block Island Power Company President Cliff McGinnes Sr. told the group that he saw an opening for the town in National Grid’s suggestion that a cable to the mainland was still possible without a wind farm.

McGinnes urged the town to seize the opportunity. BIPCo, he said, faces a slew of costly environmental upgrades — fuel tank removal and EPA-required particulate regulators — that will have to be undertaken soon if the Deepwater project does not to go forward.

In its cover letter to the Public Utilities Commission filed last Thursday, National Grid Counsel Ronald Gerawatoski wrote, “the benefits of the cable connection could be achieved by simply having National Grid construct and own the cable, without any renewable generation project associated with it … if the commission found it in the public interest to do so.”

The town “needs to get their lawyers tuned in on this,” suggested McGinnes. “We weren’t expecting this … no one wants to pay 30 cents versus 9 cents.”

Deepwater’s proposed power purchase agreement asked National Grid to pay 30.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, with annual increases; the average wholesale electricity price is 9 cents.

McGinnes said that money saved in “fuel alone would pay for [for a cable].”

National Grid spokesman David Graves said via e-mail Thursday that “the construction of the island to mainland interconnect is included in the legislation passed this year, which mandates that power be supplied to the island.”

In its proposal Deepwater names National Grid as the developer and operator of the cable, Graves says.

As for who would pay for the cable, Graves writes, “the cost of the cable and its operations and maintenance would be borne by all of National Grid’s Rhode Island electricity customers. Just as the cost of purchasing the electricity generated by the off-shore wind project would be shared by all [Rhode Island] customers.”

Back at the meeting, MacMullan said that a few years ago it didn’t make economic sense for the island to pay an estimated $20 million for a cable; now Deepwater and National Grid estimate it could cost between $30 million and $50 million now.

“What else could $20 million buy?” MacMullan asked.

Transfer Station wind turbine

Penn said he was “surprised by the intensity” of the opposition to a proposed zoning change at the transfer station that would allow a wind turbine. He said he was the only audience member at the October 5 Town Council hearing on the matter to stand in support of it.

He said he thought the task group had a responsibility to “correct the misinformation” in the community. He said the abutters objecting to the zoning change were well organized, and that the task force should “be the voice of the town” to “rally the 72 percent” of the voters and non-voting tax payers who said they would support such an installation in a survey conducted last year.

Much of the controversy stems from deed restrictions left by the late Jack Gray, who gifted the transfer station property to the town. He asked that once the dump was closed the area be left as open space with no structures.

Wind turbine opponents have excoriated the town for considering going against the Gray’s wishes — saying it set a bad precedent and would ward off future gifts.

Town Manager Nancy Dodge explained Friday that the town had “a legal opinion” that would “obviously be tested,” which said the town could proceed essentially with the blessing of Gray’s heirs.

MacMullan, as a member of the town’s Land Trust, said the issue was “a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed.”

She suggested that a wind turbine could be made part of the transfer station, which — with its structures — appeared already to exceed the parameters of Gray’s deed restrictions.

First Warden Kim Gaffett cautioned that no decision had been made on the subject.

She said the Town Council has taken Gray’s deed “very seriously,” and in the end it might not be the current council that “makes that deed decision.”