Narragansett Town Council spars with Deepwater Wind

Tue, 07/02/2013 - 1:15pm

On Wednesday night, the Narragansett Town Council held a work session with Deepwater Wind Chief Executive Officer Jeff Grybowski in order to discuss issues regarding the proposed Block Island Wind Farm, which would include a submarine transmission cable that would make landfall at Narragansett Town Beach and follow an onshore route to a new switchyard in the Town of Narragansett.

Although the work session did not include a public forum, there were more than 75 people in the audience.

The session began with a history of the communications between Deepwater and the council, which started during the previously elected town council's term. Council President James Callaghan emphasized that there was no current agreement of any kind between Narragansett and Deepwater regardless of what had been discussed with previous town staff or Council members.

In particular dispute was the location of the cable lines from the town beach to the transfer station. The cable lines were first proposed above ground on extended poles. That permit was then amended to include buried lines in May 2013. But in a projected slide, Grybowski showed a detailed chronology of the location of the cables and said that the overhead lines were shown on the town's website as of Aug. 27, 2012.

Town residents have claimed that Deepwater never disclosed the change from buried to overhead cables, which they said was discovered by a resident who combed through the documents on his own.

Grybowski said the overhead cables were clearly shown on plans that were the town's website as of that Aug. 27 date.

“The idea that we hid the overhead route is false. We never attempted to hide anything,” said Grybowski.

In a surprise announcement, Grybowski said that National Grid would construct, own, and maintain the transmission cable.

“If it is damaged, National Grid would fix the line. They are familiar with underwater cables, such as the one they operate from Nantucket to Cape Cod,” he said.

“But the likelihood of anything happening to the cable is extraordinarily remote,” Grybowski added.

Councilor Susan Cicilline-Buonanno questioned whether Deepwater had researched other landing locations besides Narragansett Beach for the transmission cable. Grybowski said his group had done the research but that Narragansett Beach was the best in terms of installation cost and its proximity to National Grid's infrastructure. Grybowski said that several state beaches, such as the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus, might be options but that Deepwater preferred Narragansett Beach.

“It’s not the only place to land a cable, but we’ve invested time in talking with the town of Narragansett,” said Grybowski. “It’s a small amount of infrastructure under a town beach. No one will know it’s there. Once it’s installed, it will have no impact. It’s an opportunity for the town to make a significant amount of money.”

Grybowski also said that public health risks were “extraordinarily low.”

“If it were so simple, it can't be that easy and you would have gone somewhere else by now,” Callaghan said to audience applause.

“You have to look at it from our perspective. You have to look at it as offensive that you want to come to the town beach. When it was first proposed, I was surprised. When you think about it, this is not the best for the town when it goes through our most precious resource,” Callaghan continued, as the audience applauded again.

Councilor Matthew Mannix asked Grybowski to name the dollar amount Deepwater was offering the town to do the project.

Grybowski said that figure was $2.25 million. “That was the number Deepwater and town staff discussed prior to this town council election,” said Grybowski, who added that Deepwater had paid $375,000 to Block Island. Callaghan pointed out that Cape Wind paid Yarmouth $9.5 million over 20 years, as a comparison.

In addition to the Block Island Wind Farm, Deepwater wants to build a much larger wind farm on the Outer Continental Shelf, which is 30 miles east of Montauk, New York, and nearly 15 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard, according to the company’s website.

On July 31 of this year, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will auction off commercial wind energy leases for 165,000 acres in the Outer Continental Shelf. Deepwater will be one of several bidders for these leases instead of simply laying claim to its intended ocean real estate.

Councilor Douglas McLaughlin pointed out that there are eight other bidders in line for the wind energy leases.

Grybowski said he was confident his company would prevail.

“We will win the wind auctions,” Grybowski said.