Motion to suspend talks with Deepwater tabled until May

Wants to update new council members
Fri, 04/19/2013 - 4:00pm

Town officials from Narragansett have notified the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) that there is no agreement with Deepwater Wind regarding the landing of Block Island’s wind farm transmission cable and that the council is considering suspending negotiations with the wind energy company until July.

Freshman Narragansett Councilman Matthew Mannix made a motion to suspend negotiations with Deepwater Wind during an April 1 council meeting. That motion was continued until the council’s May 6 meeting, but the board unanimously agreed to notify the CRMC, the state agency tasked with permitting the project, that no agreement is yet in place. CRMC received a letter to that effect from Narragansett’s town solicitor on Thursday, April 4.

Mannix explained in his motion that the suspension of negotiations will allow “the people of Narragansett, as well as the Town Council members, to learn more about Deepwater Wind and its proposal to dig up Narragansett Town Beach to connect its cable from Block Island.”

As part of its proposal to create a five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm three miles off Block Island, Deepwater Wind has agreed to fund the 21-mile cable that will transmit 90 percent of the wind power to National Grid’s power system. The transmission line would run from Old Harbor, around Point Judith’s rocky shoal and land at Narragansett Town Beach, where it would connect to National Grid’s system via poles and a switching station. Narragansett would have to grant the company an easement in order for the transmission line to land at its town beach.

In March, Deepwater Wind held a three-hour public workshop about the Narragansett side of the project. But according to Mannix, the workshop still left many questions unanswered.

“The project proposed by Deepwater Wind is extremely complicated and the short-term and/or long-term impact of that project on the town of Narragansett is unclear,” Mannix said in his motion.

“The reason I put in a motion is to make sure we get a complete vetting of information,” Mannix said last week.

“The public [workshop] on March 5 really helped people to learn what was going on,” he added. “We heard from Deepwater Wind and it raised a lot of questions.”

Mannix said that delaying negotiations would offer town officials time to conduct independent research, examine decisions made by the state Public Utilities Commission, review testimony from other hearings about the proposed wind farm and study environmental impacts from the project.

Deepwater Wind’s CEO Jeffrey Grybowski deferred comment on the possibly stalled negotiations to the company’s public relations agency, Duffy & Shanley of Providence. “We are continuing our efforts in Narragansett to come to an agreement for the interconnection of the Block Island Transmission System,” said spokeswoman Meaghan Wims last week. “Beyond that, we’re declining to comment.”

Grybowski said in March that if the line into Narragansett is not approved, Deepwater Wind would suffer a “significant setback” in its plans to begin construction for the wind farm by summer or fall.

The town’s letter to the CRMC cites that three new members were elected to Narragansett’s Town Council in November and that the new council was updated on the status of negotiations that had occurred with the prior council and Deepwater Wind. It also notes that information was made public during a workshop led by Grybowski in March that was titled “Benefits for the Town of Narragansett.”

During that meeting, Grybowski said that Narragansett would reap money, jobs and a new power source from the cable. Residents, however, questioned why alternate sites weren’t identified for landing the cable on the mainland. Some suggested the line be brought by a more direct route through South Kingstown, Charlestown or Westerly.

Many in attendance at the workshop laughed when Grybowski said that the project would make Narragansett “one of the greatest communities in America” because it would be a part of the first offshore wind farm developed in the United States. After his 30-minute presentation the public raised concerns about how the line would affect the town aesthetics and environmental issues.

Grybowski said that construction at Narragansett’s town beach would be done in the off-season and that because the cable would be buried 10 feet below the beach residents would see little impact. The underwater cable would traverse from the beach to two manholes built into the beach’s south parking lot and then connect to above-ground power poles that will be replaced along Narragansett Avenue. The medium-voltage cable will then connect to a switching station about one mile west of the beach on property that is now home to a Parks and Recreation Department garage.

During previous public hearings, Deepwater Wind had proposed burying the power line along this route. Grybowski told residents that the existing underground utilities along Narragansett Avenue prevent the possibility of burying the cable costly and time consuming. Instead, Deepwater wants to replace existing poles with poles that are five feet to 10 feet taller. The new cable would run at the top of those poles, with existing power lines still underneath.

Mannix said he hopes to learn more about why the cable went from being underground to being proposed above ground.

Residents were concerned that such tall poles would make the town look “industrial” and also questioned if children who play at Sprague Park or attend the elementary school along the route would be in any danger.

A clear minority of the nearly 75-member audience at the public workshop supported the proposal and said it would benefit Narragansett and the state by creating 200 construction jobs and bring enough power for 17,000 homes.

Mannix’s motion states that the workshop provided “more detailed information” about the project but that interest among the town’s residents has increased dramatically.

“As a council, we have a duty to learn more about this project and make sure that momentum does not gather for an agreement between the town and Deepwater Wind without proper public vetting,” Mannix wrote.

The motion will be discussed during the council’s next regular meeting on Monday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Narragansett Town Hall, 25 Fifth Ave.

The headline for this article was changed from the one that appeared in print April 20. "Narragansett tables discussions with Deepwater until July" is incorrect. The council has decided to table a motion to discontinue discussions until its May 6 meeting.