Wind farm cables to be lengthened for reburial
During a hearing before the State Senate’s Special Task Force on Fisheries, Coastal Resources Management Council Executive Director Grover Fugate affirmed that the resolution to the exposed cable issues at Crescent Beach will be to splice in new sections of cable. The new sections of cable will be anywhere from 100 feet to up to a half mile in length in order to rebury the cable at the depth it was originally supposed to have been installed, Fugate said during testimony.
The hearing was held Tuesday, Feb. 4 at the Rhode Island State House. The Task Force is chaired by Sen. Sue Sosnowski, who represents Block Island.
“The problem now is there is not enough flex in the line to drop in a trench,” said Fugate. There have been exposure issues with two cables, one of which is now owned by Ørsted A/S (once Deepwater Wind) and the other by National Grid. In total, there is about 100 feet of exposed cable beginning approximately 200 feet from the shoreline at Crescent Beach.
Fugate gave the senators a brief history of how the cables came to be exposed. At first, Fugate said, the CRMC recommended that the trench be dug through a technique called “directional drilling because of the complexity of the environment,” he said. The equipment used instead is known as a jet plow. Fugate also said the CRMC had originally agreed that the cables would be buried between six to eight feet below the seabed, but eventually agreed to a four-foot depth.
Then, during the digging process, the contractors hit bedrock. It was Fugate’s contention that the contractors installing the cables did not do enough prep work, because they hit what he described as “boulders and cobbles. The cable was buried less than two feet deep, when it was supposed to be between four and eight feet.” He added that the exposed cable was located at Crescent Beach, “which is the main swimming beach on Block Island.” He told the senators the reason he believed the contractors were unaware of the bedrock was because “they did not do enough geo-tech work.”` A proposal to cover the exposed area of cable with concrete mats would work, but only in the short-term. “They could do that but it was unacceptable as a permanent solution,” Fugate said.
The solution, Fugate said, was to rebury the cable by directionally drilling a deeper trench.
“They are going to go back and directionally drill the line and do two seaward splices on the cable,” said Fugate. The reason for the extra sections is that a newly-drilled trench will be at the original depth of between six to eight feet. The cable is now about two feet below the surface of the ocean. Dropping it down four to six more feet for the section that needs reburying requires the extra length.
Fugate said the splicing will occur sometime between the fall of 2020 and spring of next year. “That is where the Block Island issue is,” said Fugate to the Task Force, adding that “Ørsted and National Grid are feeling the pressure to get the matter behind them.”
Sosnowski then asked, “The bottom line is: Who is going to pay for this?”
Fugate said the matter was before the Public Utilities Commission, which has asked for records from the CRMC regarding the permitting process for the cable. He also said the matter “may end up in litigation.” After the meeting and in response to a question from The Block Island Times as to why it may possibly end up in litigation, Fugate said that if the PUC votes to have the companies pay for the project out of pocket, the decision would be litigated. In July 2019, however, Ørsted told The Block Island Times that it would pay for the re-installation and not pass the cost of the project off to the public. National Grid has stated to the paper in the past that the cost of reinstalling a section of its sea2shore cable might be shared by mainland and island ratepayers.
Fugate also said that so far there has been no cost associated with the re-installation project.
When asked if the CRMC had the ability to impose fines on the companies that own the cables, Fugate said they did, but had not done so because he felt any fines imposed would “fall back on the rate base.”
Other senators sitting on the Task Force said they did not want ratepayers to be responsible for paying the cost of reburying the cables. National Grid’s cable links the island to the mainland, while Ørsted’s cable connects the Block Island Wind Farm to the Block Island Power Co. The cables were installed in 2016.