Some residents cautiously optimistic about wind farm proposals

Mon, 06/01/2009 - 4:15am
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05/30/09 - Island residents appear open-minded about two offshore wind farms near Block Island, based upon those spoken to at an open house hosted by developer Deepwater Wind last week.

The event, which featured Deepwater senior executives, presentations and updates, had a mixed effect, with some attendees supporting the farms and others doubting their viability.

About 50 residents stopped by the open house at St. Andrew’s Parish Center on May 21.

Deepwater Wind wants to place two wind farms near Block Island: one with five to eight turbines about three miles east of the island and another, with about 100 turbines, about 15 miles to the east.

The smaller farm would include a tie-in to the island and a link to the mainland that could lower electric costs for the island.

Company executives showed mock-up photos of what a wind farm would look like from the shores of Block Island. They also gave a slide show of wind farms in Europe and presented information about an ongoing avian study.

Island resident Merrill Slate sat in the middle of the room where he could view the slides. He said he was interested in the project because he had worked for the Block Island Power Co. before his retirement. He recalled when NASA placed an experimental wind turbine at the power company 32 years ago.

“People came from all over the world to see it,” Slate said. “The whole community used it as it was on the [electric] line.”

After a few years, NASA took the turbine down. Slate said he supported the Deepwater Wind project. As did residents Bill Penn, George Mellor and Socha Cohen.

“This size farm is palatable for everyone,” Cohen said. “I see it as a win-win situation, big enough to be of use, and small enough not to ruin the ambiance of the island.”

Summer resident Norman Topf said the farms were important for a country that produces most of its energy from non-renewable sources.

“It’s clear we have to get off coal and oil to create energy,” Topf said.

Topf’s wife Shelley, however, remained on the fence, as did other residents.

“I haven’t seen anything yet that says it’s perfect for Block Island,” Suzanne McKeough said. “I need more information.”

Others remained dead-set against a wind farm.

“In principle, wind and solar power are fine; but they are not the answer,” sport fisherman and attorney Jack Lynch said. “I feel the real answer is nuclear [power].”

He has seen two wind farms in California and one in Ireland. They are in “random sizes and placement,” he said, and “in the hills outside of Berkeley — gorgeous hills — there is no majesty.” Some wonderful landscape has been sacrificed there, he said.

Having fished the waters off Block Island extensively, Lynch said he believes Deepwater’s project plan “is highly questionable as far as its practicality. The waters around the island are vicious ocean.”

Both wind farms are still years away from operation. The state Coastal Resources Management Council is in the process of completing an ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) that would zone the waters off Block Island for different uses, including wind farms.

The smaller project near Block Island would need approval from the CRMC among other agencies. The town has no direct control over whether the farm is built. However, town officials and state lawmakers could lobby the state to scuttle the project.

But local boards and commissions must grant approval for the necessary on-island infrastructure that would allow a tie-in with the island. If denied, the farm could move ahead, but without a connection to the island.

The federal Minerals Management Service, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, would need to sign off on the larger project. Other agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would also become involved.