PUC approves Deepwater/National Grid contract waiver

Fri, 12/02/2011 - 4:30pm

Deepwater Wind continues to move forward with research to prepare for its five-turbine wind farm off the south shore of Block Island after a legal challenge failed this week. An appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court could follow, however.

The Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Tuesday morning, November 29, to approve a waiver requested by National Grid that would preserve its power purchasing agreement with Deepwater Wind.

“We are very pleased with today’s PUC decision,” Deepwater Wind CEO Bill Moore said. “We have been investing millions of dollars to advance the project over the last several months, and with today’s decision, our plans to make the Block Island Wind Farm the nation’s first offshore wind project remain on target.”

National Grid spokesman David Graves said only that the company “agrees with the PUC’s decision.”

Toray Plastics, a Rhode Island manufacturer that has opposed the increase in electricity costs that the agreement would bring, had filed an objection to the September waiver request, arguing that the contract had expired at the end of June.

A “sunset” provision of the contract stated that it would expire at the end of June if PUC approval and subsequent appeals had not been concluded at that time. An appeal at the State Supreme Court was concluded on July 1 — one day after the contract was set to expire. The request by National Grid and upheld by the PUC waives the sunset clause, preserving the contract.

Toray has not said whether it will appeal the decision. National Grid has asked that the waiver not be subject to appeal, but R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers Chief of Information and Public Relations Specialist Thomas Kogut said that the commission agreed with its legal counsel’s advice that its ruling, “just like any Commission order, can be appealed.”

The Commission considered a number of legal issues related to the sunset clause and the role of the PUC in ruling on the waiver. Toray argued that the commission did not have jurisdiction to rule on the waiver request; however, at Tuesday’s meeting the commission determined that it had the proper jurisdiction, citing state law.

Land-side cable route

Just this week Public Archaeology Laboratory workers were on the island beginning to survey the proposed route that the cable from the wind farm to the Block Island Power Company would travel once it hits land. The crew is digging a 3-foot wide hole every 10 meters to search for Native American artifacts.

The cable will run inside a pipe along the side of Beach Avenue, approximately 3 feet below the surface. Deepwater has said that they hope to put construction of the cable out to bid in the second quarter of 2012.

The company hopes to apply for various state and federal permits to construct the wind farm and cable in the first quarter of next year. The company has previously stated that they plan to have the project completed by 2013 or 2014, as a precursor to a larger project further offshore in the federal waters between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

“Our supporters in Rhode Island should be commended for their steadfast support, as this smaller project leads us toward the creation of a whole new industry,” Moore said. “The Block Island Wind Farm is a key stepping-stone to larger projects, bringing lower costs and many new jobs for the entire region.”