Energy Task Force gets Deepwater, BIPCo updates

Mon, 12/14/2009 - 5:00am
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12/12/09 — The Electric Utility Task Group met Friday to hear updates from Deepwater Wind on their proposed wind farm off Block Island and from the Block Island Power Company on a study to determine the cost and feasibility of upgrading the island’s electric distribution lines.

Bryan Wilson, Block Island liaison for Deepwater, spoke about the American Wind Energy Association conference held in Boston last week.

Wilson went over the topics covered in Boston, including wildlife impact, permitting issues, new technology, public relation and lessons learned from Europe.

“Offshore wind is proven technology in the [European Union] and is based on years of experience,” Wilson said. “In the U.S. we are in a good position to learn from Europe.”

Task Group member Bill Penn asked Wilson to go over what deadlines and milestones were ahead of the Deepwater project. Wilson said that the biggest milestone coming up is the Public Utility Commission approval of a contract between Deepwater and National Grid, and that most other aspects of the project are on hold until that decision.

Wilson also went over some hurdles that Deepwater still needed to cross before construction of the Block Island wind farm could begin.

He discussed the Jones Act, which would prohibit the use of foreign made ships from being used in the construction of the wind farm. Since offshore wind is so new in this country, there are not many U.S.-made ships with the capability of erecting the large structures. Wilson said that one possible remedy would be retrofitting ships formerly used to build oil platforms.

During Wilson’s presentation there was some discussion over the possibility of including a fiber-optic cable within the electric cable planned to connect Block Island with the mainland. Dennis Shepherd, a Block Island resident who attended the meeting, questioned whether the Deepwater cable would already have communication cables to allow for remote monitoring of the turbines. He asked whether those could be used for residential communication, like television and Internet, from the island.

Task Group member Everett Shorey said that it was his understanding that any communications cables would have to be laid separate from the electric cable. However, he also noted that the current infrastructure of the island would not support a fiber-optic network. He said that he doubted whether they could find a company to invest in a transmission system for the island.

“We are not on a path for [a fiber-optic cable] right now,” Shorey said.

BIPCo President Cliff McGinnes Sr. updated the task group on the company’s recently conducted distribution study. He said that upgrading the power lines to improve reliability and increase efficiency would cost $3.5 million and he is waiting to hear from the PUC before he presents all the documentation to the task group.

There was some discussion over whether to space the project out, replacing small sections at a time, or to make the upgrade more rapid.

“This is a big project and we will be working on it forever if we don’t do it in big chunks,” McGinnes said. “They way to do the project is to do it.”

The group deferred action on a report to the Town Council to update it on the failed acquisition of BIPCo. Members also decided that they would all continue to serve on the group on a year-to-year basis.