Coastal seeks year-long wind farm moratorium
Effort to create rules and to map the ocean
In an effort to create ground rules as well as to determine what state waters would best serve potential wind farms, the Coastal Resources Management Council will vote next week on a proposed year-long moratorium on alternative energy projects in state waters.
The move would place a “one-year moratorium on all renewable energy proposals in the state’s territorial waters pending the development of an ocean special area management plan, or SAMP,” reads the agency’s notice on its website.
According to CRMC spokeswoman Laura Ricketson-Dwyer, coastal is acting because “there is no specific section of our Redbook [regulation manual] that addresses wind farms.”
Last fall Andrew Dzykewicz, commissioner of the state Office Energy Resources, announced an ambitious initiative to create wind farms in the ocean off Rhode Island; two potential locations were sited to the south and southwest of Block Island. Dzykewicz made two presentations on the island, and he left open the option of connecting a cable to the island.
In December Dzykewicz and the governor also signed off on a memo of understanding with wave energy company OceanLinx to place a prototype off the southeast side of Block Island. Ricketson-Dwyer said that that experimental project should not be affected by a moratorium.
Dzykewicz did not return a call this week.
Ricketson-Dwyer explains that the CRMC has designated water types for different activities — commercial and recreational or mixed uses. With the SAMP, the agency envisions creating a similar index for ocean water types in order to specifically identify areas that would be “permit-ready sites for these farms.”
Ricketson-Dwyer said that to accomplish the SAMP in a year would be “very ambitious.”
In the midst of the wind farm announcements last fall, Wall Street-based company Allco submitted an application to CRMC to erect 300 wind turbines spread out over four sites off Rhode Island — including one near Block Island. The state appeared to give the submission the cold shoulder and, according to Ricketson-Dwyer, the Allco application has since been returned because it “lacked certain information.” However, the company is welcome to reapply at any time, she said.
Allco spokesman Bill Fischer acknowledged the application was sent back, but attributed it to the lack of state rules and regulations in place to handle wind farm projects.
That said, Allco welcomes CRMC’s moratorium effort.
“If it stays on schedule, it could expedite the process,” he said, because establishing guidelines would help bring some certainty to the marketplace.
A crucial aspect moving forward is who would collect weather data, a major part of the planning for wind farms.
Fischer is confident that CRMC will allow Allco to set up the meteorological towers to gather data that would also be necessary to gain financing for such a project. At least a year’s worth of data would be needed before approaching a bank, he said.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Fischer. Allco “is absolutely committed to doing a project in Rhode Island.”
Environmental groups cautiously supportive
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Environment Rhode Island this week sent a joint letter to CRMC Director Grover Fugate in support of the moratorium insofar as it would produce a regulatory road map as well as a literal map of the state’s waters.
“If done correctly, such a plan should promote development of renewable energy in Rhode Island, while ensuring the protection of the ocean ecosystem. A comprehensive plan could make the process of deciding what happens in the ocean more efficient by creating a clear decision-making process and eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy,” wrote Rhode Island CLF director Cynthia Giles.
At the same time, the CLF also considers it crucial that the moratorium not get in the way of allowing private entities to erect meteorological towers.
“That data is needed,” says Giles.
Given the financial straits the state currently finds itself in, allowing private efforts would make the most economic sense, Giles says. “It would be good government and would speed things up,” she says. CLF is “not in favor of waiting.”
“We suggest that CRMC make clear in the written proposal that met towers, experimental projects and other data collection and pilot efforts appropriate for pursuing renewable energy projects, by public or private developers, can be allowed during the moratorium.”
The conservation group is concerned that the moratorium will end up being an unproductive delay.
“The best result of an ocean SAMP would be clear guidelines that help developers understand from an ecological perspective whether development in a given location would be acceptable or not,” writes Giles. However, “Without a clear and public plan, the suggested moratorium could end up being just a one year delay that gets us no closer to improved ocean management or development of renewable energy projects in Rhode Island.”
Giles said on Wednesday that she understands the outlines of the plan will be presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
A group of senators led by Joseph Montalbano (D-Lincoln, North Providence, Pawtucket) planned to announce a series of renewable energy bills at a Thursday news conference. According to the Senate press office, these bills would “consolidate and coordinate state policies, priorities and investments” as well as encourage private investment in the state’s fledgling renewable energy industry. They would address municipal renewable energy projects to help cities and towns lower their energy costs, while also creating a method of selling small amounts of renewable energy and encouraging small scale projects
The CRMC hearing on the moratorium will be held in the boardroom of the Narragansett Bay Commission, 1 Service Road, Providence, on Tuesday, March 11, at 6 p.m.