Cable options: Where do we go from here?

Mon, 10/28/2013 - 2:00pm

It was inevitable that the discussion with state Rep. Donna Walsh and Sen. Sue Sosnowski would get around to the subject of Deepwater Wind. The two held a breakfast at the Community Center on Wednesday, Oct. 23, and all of 18 people showed up.

But when the subject of Deepwater Wind did arise, it was the opponents who showed the most passion, and repeatedly asked the two Block Island representatives why it was not better, in the end, to support a $50 million transmission cable to the mainland rather than a $500 million wind turbine project of unproven merits. After all, if the cable is the secret to lower electric rates, isn’t that the better deal?

It’s a good question, but only when considered without context. Of course it seems to make economic and geographical sense. Build a cable to the mainland, and hook an energy source up to it. But it avoids three central questions: One) What energy source on the mainland will be made available for the island, and when; two) Now that opponents of Deepwater Wind have so effectively shut down Narragansett as an alternative to landing the cable on the mainland, where do they propose it lands now; and three) Who will pay the millions of dollars the new cable will cost if it only benefits Block Island?

As to the first, it’s been suggested that a land-based wind farm in Maine may supply some of the energy to the state, but that project is far from certain. We haven’t heard of many other options, but creating new energy sources that meet the renewable energy component is part of this discussion and needs to be addressed.

Two, opponents of Deepwater Wind were so successful in persuading members of the Narragansett Town Council to reject the very idea of a cable that, if the Deepwater project does not go forward (we are in no way suggesting that’s going to happen), how do opponents now go back to the town of Narragansett (or any other municipality) and argue that a standalone cable is actually a good idea to run through their land after all?

Opponents have also suggested that the alternative — running the cable through state land at Scarborough Beach — has been an end-run around the mainland citizenry. It may very well be, but that argument still leaves proponents of the standalone cable without many options of where that lone cable ought to go ashore. They’ll have to begin the entire lobbying effort again, only with what we can imagine will be very skeptical legislative bodies.

Three, we probably won’t get a lot of monetary support on the mainland, either from ratepayers or the General Assembly, to help defray the cost of the cable if the only people who benefit are islanders.  It’s important to remember that if the cable is connected to the Deepwater Wind project, energy customers on the mainland receive some benefit; a standalone cable not attached to that project offers no benefits to non-islanders whatsoever.

And, just as a reminder, if the island didn’t have the $2 million it needed for a standalone cable when it was proposed back in the 1980s, we probably don’t have the $50 million or so needed to build one now.

There are many people who do not want to believe that Deepwater is an inevitability and they are committed to fighting it. That is not only their right but their duty. But any continuing opposition ought to be done with foresight and strategy. If opponents are successful in derailing Deepwater Wind, there’s no need for the island to be left out in the cold — and in the dark — all over again.