Deepwater Wind opponents look to Maine as new power source

But connecting to Block Island still a question
Tue, 10/08/2013 - 6:45pm
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An application heard before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Wednesday, Oct. 9, to bring energy produced by a wind farm in Maine to Rhode Island has renewed calls from Deepwater Wind opponents about the cost of energy that would be supplied by the Block Island wind farm project.

Energy distribution company National Grid has applied to the Rhode Island PUC to purchase power from Champlain Wind, LLC, which has proposed to build a 16-turbine land-based wind farm in central Maine.

This application does not directly supply energy to Block Island because the island is not connected to National Grid’s power distribution system.

However, Deepwater opponents claim that the electricity purchased from the Champlain Wind’s project would be less expensive than the electricity purchased from Deepwater’s offshore wind farm. Some opponents are calling for a renegotiation of the Purchase Power Agreement (PPA) that was signed between National Grid and Deepwater.

“Land-based turbines placed in the correct places should be able to get lower pricing that’s closer to other sources of electricity,” said Laurence Ehrhardt, a North Kingstown resident and former General Assembly member. Ehrhardt, along with former Rhode Island Attorney General Jim O’Neil, published an opinion piece in the Providence Journal on Sunday, Oct. 6 outlining his reasons for opposing Deepwater Wind.

A question remains as to how new energy sources from the mainland would be connected to Block Island if they do not come from Deepwater Wind. Deepwater Wind has proposed building an approximately $60 million cable from Block Island to the mainland, and the costs would be paid for by National Grid ratepayers. But the cable has also proved controversial. The Narragansett Town Council unanimously rejected landing the cable on town land, and Deepwater Wind has now proposed landing it on state property at Scarborough Beach.

O’Neil said there is a solution to paying for the cable from the mainland to Block Island.

“If National Grid is providing the ratepayers energy that’s at a reduced rate, then the ratepayers as a whole will be in a financial posture to contribute to the cable,” said O’Neil.

O’Neil said that paying for a cable “is not a problem that can’t be reconciled.” He said the cost of the cable can be included as a line item in energy bills to National Grid customers and paid for over time. He also said the $60 million that’s often cited as the cost of the cable may not be accurate. “That seems to be an extraordinary figure to me,” said O’Neil. “Nobody has recently said what a sole cable would actually cost.”

Block Island resident Bill McKernan agreed with O’Neil and Ehrhardt. McKernan serves on an island Telecommunications Task Force, a committee that is working to improve the internet service on Block Island.

“Apparently, there’s a lot of other wind turbines that are looking for long term contracts that are much cheaper than what Deepwater seems to be quoting,” said McKernan. “But the people on Block Island will then say, ‘yes, but what about our cable?’”

McKernan’s answer to this question was: “If it’s a public utility, they should be required to have the ratepayers cover it.... Why not petition the state PUC to say that National Grid should service all residents of Block Island, and that we want to run a cable and socialize those costs?”

Champlain Wind LLC is proposing a 48 megawatt (MW) land-based wind turbine project located in Carroll Plantation in Carroll, Maine, according to a public notice issued by the PUC. The project will consist of 16 Siemens wind turbines at 3 megawatts (MW) each, and it will connect to National Grid’s electricity distribution system at a substation in Maine.

If the PPA between National Grid and Champlain Wind is approved by the PUC, Champlain will sell the energy produced by its wind farm, called the Bowers Wind Project, to National Grid, at a fixed bundled cost of $78 per megawatt-hour (which translates to 7.8 cents per kilowatt-hour) according to National Grid testimony provided to the PUC.

In contrast, Deepwater will sell the electricity produced by its proposed five-turbine, 30 megawatt Block Island wind farm starting at 24 cents per kilowatt-hour (Kwh).

“We probably could have satisfied our entire renewable energy requirement with Maine and New Hampshire wind power,” said Ehrhardt. “I don’t see why you would say we need to be doing the Deepwater stuff at the same time.”

Ehrhardt and O’Neil argued that because Deepwater would cost more than triple what Champlain would, Rhode Island consumers would be spending approximately $535 million more than they need to.

While Ehrhardt acknowledges the fact that National Grid has signed an agreement with Deepwater, he believes there should be some re-negotiating about this agreement.

“There are contracts in place, so I’m not suggesting we just walk away from our obligations, as foolish as they may be,” said Ehrhardt, referring to the PPA between National Grid and Deepwater. “Instead, we should consider contractual renegotiating, by trying to come up with a buyout.”

National Grid is required by Rhode Island state law to purchase a certain amount of power — 90 megawatts — generated from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. National Grid has signed PPAs with four other renewable energy companies, including Deepwater.

In testimony filed with the PUC, Corinne Abrams, National Grid’s Public Manager of Environmental Transactions, said that the agreement signed with Champlain Wind allows National Grid to reach 73.5 of this 90 megawatt requirement.

Abrams’ testimony said: “Through the execution of the Rhode Island LFG Geneco Power Purchase Agreement for the Town of Johnston Project, the Power Purchase Agreement with Deepwater Wind, the Power Purchase Agreement with Orbit Energy following the first annual solicitation, and the Black Bear PPA following the second solicitation, the company executed contracts for 53 percent of the 90 MW requirement.”

In her testimony, Abrams explained the reason National Grid selected Champlain Wind for this PPA. Abrams said this project “represented the best value in terms of price because it ranked number one out of the four lowest bids received and was the highest scoring proposal.”

The PUC held a public hearing about the Champlain agreement on Wednesday, Oct. 9. A decision is expected by Nov. 4.