Wind farm is lose-lose, intervenors say in PUC filings

Mon, 02/01/2010 - 5:00am

01/30/10 - All the reasons given to support the Block Island wind farm project are wrong, says the consultant hired by island residents Michael and Maggie Delia to help them oppose the development of an eight-turbine wind farm southeast of the island.

The Delias, of Southeast Point and Whitehouse Station, N.J., who cite years of experience in the aircraft industry and as business consultants, are intervenors in the Public Utilities Commission case involving the power purchase agreement between Deepwater Wind and National Grid.

They and their expert witness, William P. Short III of New York City, have pre-filed testimony for the PUC hearing which will come on in March.

In his testimony, Short touts an alternate site for the wind farm, east of the “shipping channel” to Newport. There, he said, a wind farm would be “largely over the horizon out of sight from Block Island and the Rhode Island mainland,” would face “considerably less intervenor opposition and (have) less negative impact on the non-marketable values of the propose SAMP area.”

Quickly, the PUC asked Deepwater what alternate sites are proposed if the SAMP process finds Deepwater’s proposed sites unacceptable. (The Ocean Special Area Management Plan study by the Coastal Resources Management Council and the University of Rhode Island is now in the works; one chapter is in draft form.)

Deepwater’s answer is that it is “not aware of any alternate sites” in state waters that would meet the requirements of state law for an offshore wind farm.

Also probing the site issue, the Delias asked the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers if the agreement between the state and Deepwater requires that “the 30 M/W project (the Block Island project) be sited in the near waters of Block Island rather than in the projected off-shore site for the 100 turbines” planned by Deepwater far to the east of the island.

The answer was no, “assuming that what is intended by the term ‘near water’ in your question means within the three-mile limit of the territorial waters of the state of Rhode Island and its shores.”

The PUC also asked Deepwater for “visual simulations” of the wind farm from the Southeast Lighthouse, Old Harbor and North Light on the island, Watch Hill, Point Judith, Newport and Sakonnet Point on the mainland, and Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard.

Deepwater responded that it would have “renderings” prepared.

Summary statements

Short’s views are not fleshed out to the extent that the principal players in the case have presented their testimony. In a series of summary statements, Short says that:

• The contract setting the rate at which the mainland distributor of power, National Grid, will buy the power Deepwater produces is not “commercially reasonable”;

• The wind farm “will not stabilize long-term energy prices at the lowest price,” as claimed by its proponents, but at two to four times future energy prices;

• The wind farm will “only minimally enhance environmental quality” compared to other renewable energy sources;

• It will “create minimal jobs” in the state (Deepwater claims the Block Island project together with the follow-on “utility scale” project farther out to sea will create 600 jobs);

• The project will “crowd out more economical renewable projects” in the state;

• It “will not provide any net economic benefits” to the state.

Delia testimony

Michael Delia’s testimony in large part echoes that of his consultant. The wind farm contract is “a lose-lose situation for the Rhode Island taxpayer and citizen,” he says. “We will be paying too much for our energy costs and we will be permanently and irrevocably altering our Ocean State’s ocean.”

The federal and state governments, he says, “are on the brink of the monumental decision to place industrial power generation equipment into sacred waters, historic waters, recreational waters, commercial fishing waters, waters of extraordinary fisheries, tourist revenue-producing waters, waters of great beauty.”

Delia states that Deepwater is “paying millions for the SAMP process” as well as the fees of the town’s attorney and consultant who are participating in the case and calls that a conflict of interest. Deepwater is in fact paying the town’s lawyer and consultant fees. But the CRMC denied vigorously that it is receiving any funds from Deepwater for preparing the SAMP that is evaluating sites for offshore power generation.

Attached to his statement is an article from an unnamed journal and the chapter on recreation and tourism from the draft SAMP.

Maggie Delia’s testimony is largely about island tourism and the environment. She says that the wind farm will change the “character, feel, viewsheds, ecology, tourism and economy” of Block Island forever.

She noted that, according to the draft SAMP, tourism accounted for $259 million in spending on Block Island in 2007. “I am surprised,” she testified, that with numbers like that, “the Town Council has not undertaken a survey or created a focus group of tourists to discover what impact the wind farm may have on the island and the state tourism dollars.”

She was asked, “If there are eight windmills built in front of your view at the Southeast light … will you leave Block Island?” She responded, “The problem is, where am I going to go? This is a place to stand for my family and I [sic].”

She attached to her testimony a lengthy Pew Ocean Commission report, “America’s Living Ocean.”

Other voices

The town’s consultant, Boston-based Richard La Capra, filed a statement that the town does not object to the power purchase agreement. However, he points out, the state has created special conditions for evaluating the “commercial reasonableness” of the Block Island project and PUC approval should not be regarded as precedent for any other power purchase from a renewable source.

Also the state Economic Development Corp. and the state Building and Construction Trades Council have filed supporting testimony; both envision the development of the state as a “hub” of renewable energy infrastructure.