Deepwater gets tower approval from state

Mon, 07/20/2009 - 4:15am
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07/18/09 - A 180-foot meteorological tower is weeks away from installation near the Coast Guard Station after receiving a green light from the state.

On Monday, the Coastal Resources Management Council unanimously granted Deepwater Wind permission to install the tower. The single-pole structure supported by guy wires will collect wind data in anticipation of Deepwater building two wind farms off the coast of Block Island. The company expects to keep the tower in place for two years, subject to town approval every six months.

Deepwater Chief Development Officer Paul Rich said the exact date of the tower’s installation depended on how quickly the CRMC delivered the physical permit and how fast the company secured a town building permit. But once the approvals are in place, the tower could go up in a matter of hours. Rich said the design of the tower allows it to be installed without the assistance of a crane or other large equipment.

The CRMC also approved the installation of an 8-foot tall Light Detecting and Ranging (LDAR) unit by the North Light for six months, also to collect wind data. Deepwater also plans to moor a 20-foot-by-10-foot barge containing meteorological equipment three miles off the southern coast for three months.

CRMC Chairman Michael Tikoian said the council approved the Deepwater application with the stipulation that the company share the data collected with scientists at the agency and the University of Rhode Island. Those researchers are undertaking an ocean Special Area Management Plan that will zone the ocean for various uses, including wind farms.

Deepwater officials agreed to share the data, backing away from earlier statements made to the town’s Electric Utility Task Group that releasing the information could help its competitors. On Tuesday, Rich said the company preferred to keep the data private, but relented at the request of the CRMC and the potential of the data to help craft the SAMP.

“Obviously we benefit from the activities of the SAMP,” Rich said.

The CRMC also required that Deepwater respond within 48 hours if the tower falls down.

Rich called the tower, LDAR and barge necessary to secure funding for the privately financed project that is expected to cost more than $1.5 billion.

“They’re going to want to see this plan can support the power production of the turbines,” Rich said. “It’s really a major step in the advancement of this project.”

Deepwater envisions placing one farm with five to eight turbines about three miles off the southeast side of the island. Plans call for the project to include a cable from the island to the mainland electric grid. Deepwater executives have said they want the project online by 2011.

Separately, another farm, with about 100 turbines, would sit about 15 miles to the east of Block Island. That farm must pass a lengthy federal review process and is years away from fruition.

Both farms are intended to reduce Rhode Island’s dependency on nonrenewable energy sources. Tikoian said that goal, and a desire to facilitate the SAMP, led to the council’s approval with no friction.

“We view this as basically gathering scientific data to help the SAMP process and obviously our interest is doing what right for the both the environment and Block Island,” he said.

Thus far, support for the project has come from seemingly all corners. The governor signed legislation last month that requires National Grid to purchase Deepwater’s electricity. And the Town Council has handed Deepwater special permits to install its equipment, including the meteorological tower.

Some residents objected to the granting of the special temporary permits, saying the council took liberties with when such permits are allowed. On Tuesday, Howell Conant, whose family owns property near meteorological tower’s anticipated location, said he saw permission for the tower as a forgone conclusion because of the council’s support. And he cautioned the town to pause before blindly granting approvals.

“I just hope the town and everybody is doing their due diligence,” he said.