Deepwater and task group hold court at Dead Eye’s

Mon, 07/26/2010 - 4:00am
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7/24/10 — At an event featuring Deepwater Wind Chief Development Officer Paul Rich and the town’s Electric Utilities Task Group, put on by the Chamber of Commerce at Dead Eye Dick’s, questions from the audience turned toward the visual and acoustic impact the proposed wind farm would have on the homes facing the south east side of the island.

Mohegan Trail resident Sandra Kelly questioned Rich over whether there would be lights and fog horns on the turbines. Rich explained that the types of lights and navigational aids like fog horns would be determined by the Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration during the permitting phase, which has yet to occur.

Rich went on to explain that island residents would have an opportunity to voice their concerns during that phase and that the regulating agencies do take neighboring homes into account. However, he did concede that there would most likely be some type of lights as well as aids to navigation attached to the six to eight turbines proposed for within three miles of the island.

Cooneymus Road resident David Lewis suggested that Deepwater Wind needed to improve its communication with the public especially on issues like the visual impact of the project. He said that based on some of the material handed out at the meeting it had not been clear about things like Deepwater’s lack of control of the lights on the towers.

The discussion became strained for a period with both Rich and members of the audience expressing frustration that their points were not being understood.

Another point of contention was over the Electric Utilities Task Group’s estimation of the savings on a typical Block Island electricity bill following the completion of the Block Island wind farm (see story front page).

Task Group member Barbara MacMullan explained the group’s calculations twice in order to clear up any confusion. MacMullen explained that the 24.4 cents per kWh price in the Power Purchase Agreement between Deepwater Wind and National Grid is not the same as the fuel charge that Block Island residents will pay. That price applies only to National Grid customers on the mainland.

Block Island ratepayers would purchase power directly from National Grid at its mainland price, which is around nine cents per kWh, MacMullan said. However, the bill will still include charges for upkeep of Block Island Power Company equipment, cable allocation charges and distribution upgrade charges. Therefore, according to the EUTG estimate, the total price of electricity on the island would fall from around 40 cents per kWh without the wind farm to 29 cents per kWh with the wind farm.

Corn Neck Road resident Ken Maxwell asked how the site designated for the wind farm was picked and whether Deepwater had data that showed strong wind resources in that area. Rich explained that through using historical data as well as several types of wind monitoring equipment on the island, Deepwater had determined the best sites for the wind turbines. He explained that the farther offshore the better the wind; however, because of the legislative mandate that calls for a wind farm within state waters the Block Island farm was sited within three miles of the shore.

At the opening of the meeting Rich gave a presentation explaining the process Deepwater is currently in with the Public Utilities Commission, which will begin two weeks of hearings on the new power contract next week.

Rich also touched on some of his hopes for the project, which included his optimism about the Quonset Point location becoming a hub for the manufacturing and staging of large utility scale off shore wind projects along the east coast. Rich mentioned a German town he visited with a port that shared many characteristics with Quonset and has prospered from the offshore wind industry in Europe.

When asked what he considered to be the project’s biggest challenges, Rich said that explaining aspects of the project to the public was difficult and he referenced recent confusion over a supposed cap on the PPA.

Rich said he remains optimistic about the project as a whole and said that based on the current schedule the farm could be operational by the end of 2012.