EUTG hears questions about wind farm consequences

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:45pm

As Deepwater Wind’s proposed five-turbine wind farm off the coast of Block Island continues on its permitting path, it is generating more questions. The town Electric Utilities Task Group (EUTG) on Monday, January 14, responded to questions about costs, alternatives and the Block Island Power Company’s role in the project.

Town Council member Sean McGarry presented two requests to the EUTG. He first asked what role Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) would play, and what costs it would incur, in relation to the Deepwater project — particularly if the island is going to receive an electric cable connecting it to the mainland as part of the project.

McGarry explained that his concerns included what level of back-up energy BIPCo would generate if, for example, the cable failed. McGarry also wondered what BIPCo would charge to generate emergency energy.

EUTG Chair Barbara MacMullan said that if the wind farm came to fruition, BIPCo would act as a distribution company (buying and selling electricity versus generating it), but there remained unanswered questions about this idea. “There’s going to be a lot of changes that will take place that are difficult to forecast down to the very specific numbers,” she said.

EUTG Vice Chair Everett Shorey said that the town had already asked consultant Richard LaCapra to work with BIPCo on questions such as emergency generation and cost.

“Structurally, it’s their [BIPCO’s] decision,” said Shorey. “Unless they choose to take advice from us.”

After discussion, the EUTG agreed to identify issues associated with a “post-cable” Block Island, and send a report to the Town Council. The group plans to discuss the issues further at its next meeting.

McGarry also asked the EUTG to research what it would cost to perform an independent study on a standalone electricity cable between the island and the mainland. McGarry explained that his plan is to propose the study cost be added into next year’s town budget.

Town Councilor Chris Warfel added to McGarry’s request. Instead of an electric cable to the mainland, Warfel has been a strong proponent of using a combination of alternative energy options and conservation to reduce Block Island’s energy costs. He asked the task force to research the cost of a study looking into this alternative.

Warfel had a separate request to present to the EUTG too, and asked the group to reconsider obtaining municipal ownership of the streetlights, which are currently owned by BIPCo.

Warfel said that if the town took ownership of the streetlights, it could be seen “as a baby step” toward condemning the power company — in other words, owning the streetlights could help the town reach an ultimate goal of owning the power company.

“We could save the ratepayers money by condemning them and then converting them to LED,” Warfel continued.

Task force member Bill Penn said when the EUTG had looked into condemning BIPCo in the past, “the legal problems, and potential financial and liability problems were significant.”

Shorey wondered whether the town would even want to acquire the streetlights, especially considering maintenance requirements and costs. It was also noted that BIPCo is currently testing LED streetlight options.

After a discussion, the EUTG agreed to further research the costs and details of obtaining ownership of the lights.

In other business, MacMullan was reelected chair of the EUTG, and Shorey elected as vice chair.