Wind farm bid selection still months away

Tue, 09/02/2008 - 5:00am
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Chris Barrett

A panel studying proposals to develop a wind farm in Rhode Island waters will not finish its work by the end of summer as initially anticipated.

The five-member group appointed by the governor in June has been giving the seven bids a “very thorough look” according to member David Farmer, who added that outside experts are being consulted. Fellow group member Saul Kaplan said he expected the group to finish its work by the end of the year.

The wind farm proposal could have implications for Block Island — not only because it suggests locations close to the island — but because it also “strongly encourages” the winner of the bid to tie the system into Block Island. Such a tie-in could lower electric rates now hovering around 65 cents a kilowatt-hour and eliminate the need for the town or Block Island Power Co. (BIPCo) to install a separate cable. (See related story on page 1.)

Farmer and fellow group member Kaplan declined to discuss the specifics of the bids under consideration, citing confidentiality guidelines. However, Kaplan said the task force is not forgetting the needs of Block Island in its review that aims to choose a company that would produce 1.3 million megawatt-hours, or 15 percent of the state’s electricity, through renewable energy.

“I am absolutely sensitive to the issue on Block Island,” Kaplan, who is the executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp., said Monday.

Kaplan and Farmer declined to speculate if the group would consult directly with the town or BIPCo, saying it was premature to be discussing specifics of bids.

But the issue of a power cable to the mainland as part of a wind farm could become moot if the study group and winning company decide to place the farm far away from Block Island.

“Those who were bidding were not told they absolutely had to put in a piece of real estate next to Block Island. It’s open to them,” Farmer, dean of the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, said. “There may be some very attractive features but the proposed bid did not specify off the coast of Block Island.”

On August 1 the state commissioned a $3.2 million Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) to map Rhode Island’s offshore waters for alternative energy uses. Funded through the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund, the study will be conducted through a joint-partnership between the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the University of Rhode Island. CRMC spokeswoman Laura Ricketson said Wednesday the study remains in its very early stages. It is expected to take two years to complete and the winning bidder will reimburse the cost.

In the meantime, the study group will select a bid. The winning company will not receive any direct funding from the state, instead the state will help steer the winner through a web of local and state regulations. But the completion of any wind farm is still years away.

The seven companies that submitted bids include Allco Renewable Energy Group Limited LLC, New York, N.Y.; Bluewater Wind LLC, Providence; Deep Water Wind Rhode Island LLC, Hoboken, N.J.; DKRW Wind LLC, Houston; Fishermen’s Energy of Rhode Island, Bristol; Great Eastern Wind LLC, Providence; and WindPowerpro.us, Woodbridge, N.J.

The companies have been hesitant to delve deeply into details of their proposals because of the confidentiality agreement with the state. However, representatives of the companies have previously told the Times that between 80 and 140 wind turbines would be needed to generate the requested amount of electricity.

Any proposal will likely meet resistance from fishermen concerned about the impact of a farm on fishing stocks and from coastal properties owners worried about their views.