EUTG advises council to support Deepwater

Mon, 11/12/2012 - 3:30pm

At a special meeting Friday, November 2, the Electric Utilities Task Group discussed a recommendation to the Town Council for the Deepwater Wind project, as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public comment period.

The letter says that Deepwater “should provide significant economic and environmental benefits to Block Island.” It goes into a cost analysis of the economic benefts, and also briefly discusses other alternatives to Deepwater that have not been implemented “in part because of the high costs associated with them.”

Currently, Deepwater is in the final stages of its permitting process, and open applications to the Army Corps and the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council mean reams of public documentation and open public comment periods for both.

As the task group is advisory to the council, the EUTG provided a letter that outlined the potential environmental and economic impacts of Deepwater’s five 6-megawatt turbines planned off the island’s southern coast — and the council will decide on the final comment to be sent to the Army Corps.

The letter reads in part: “the overall cost of electricity on Block Island will drop from 54 cents/kWh (at current fuel charges) to 31 cents per kilowatt hour, a 40 percent savings... There will also be significant environmental benefits from the DWW wind project. Nearly all of Block Island’s electricity will come from the wind farm and will be emission-free.”

At the meeting, members discussed the details of the draft, but also entered into a lengthy discussion after audience member Chris Warfel posed questions about alternative options for the town, the project’s longevity and what would happen after the project’s electric cable to the mainland reached the end of its lifespan.

“There’s a lot of things economically that say there’s another path that would be better for the island. I worry a lot about the cost of replacing the cable,” he said.

EUTG chair Barbara MacMullan agreed with Warfel that such questions are ones that should be asked, but also noted that they are not in the scope of this particular comment period.

“We will have an opportunity to benefit from this cable if the Deepwater project goes forward,” said MacMullan. “But that doesn’t mean that we should say ‘great, we don’t have to think about this for the next twenty years’... but I think those discussions — which we’ve been having over the years — are outside of the scope of what this document is.”

While the comments to the council remain largely in favor of Deepwater, group member John Warfel also requested that the group add another cautionary statement, acknowledging that there are some unknown factors in the project.

“I’m sure there are downsides we don’t know about,” said John Warfel. “There are a lot of unknowns. We can’t truly predict what’s going to happen.”

Members agreed to add into the letter a statement acknowledging that, “the Town may wish to comment on other factors we have not considered, such as the effects of being tied to the mainland grid.”