Article

Block Island speaks up over wind farm proposal

Block Islanders on Tuesday spoke out for the first time at a state hearing on a proposal to build a small offshore wind farm that would provide them with cleaner and potentially cheaper electricity. Many of the 50 people who attended the meeting voiced support for the proposal ...But others questioned whether the plan would really lead to cost savings in the long term. And they raised concerns that installing an array of machines rising hundreds of feet above sea level would dramatically alter the pristine ocean views prized by residents and visitors alike.

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. - Block Islanders on Tuesday spoke out for the first time at a state hearing on a proposal to build a small offshore wind farm that would provide them with cleaner and potentially cheaper electricity.

Many of the 50 people who attended the meeting voiced support for the proposal to install eight turbines in waters three miles southeast of the island, saying it could significantly lower energy prices for island residents who currently pay some of the highest rates in the United States.

But others questioned whether the plan would really lead to cost savings in the long term. And they raised concerns that installing an array of machines rising hundreds of feet above sea level would dramatically alter the pristine ocean views prized by residents and visitors alike.

Then there were people such as George Mellor who has lived on the island year-round for 11 years and has divided feelings. He would be able to see the turbines from his home - and would prefer not to - but still says they would benefit the island overall.

"I think the whole country has to resort to alternative energy," he said. "I can't say I can oppose this from the point of view of... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. - Block Islanders on Tuesday spoke out for the first time at a state hearing on a proposal to build a small offshore wind farm that would provide them with cleaner and potentially cheaper electricity.

Many of the 50 people who attended the meeting voiced support for the proposal to install eight turbines in waters three miles southeast of the island, saying it could significantly lower energy prices for island residents who currently pay some of the highest rates in the United States.

But others questioned whether the plan would really lead to cost savings in the long term. And they raised concerns that installing an array of machines rising hundreds of feet above sea level would dramatically alter the pristine ocean views prized by residents and visitors alike.

Then there were people such as George Mellor who has lived on the island year-round for 11 years and has divided feelings. He would be able to see the turbines from his home - and would prefer not to - but still says they would benefit the island overall.

"I think the whole country has to resort to alternative energy," he said. "I can't say I can oppose this from the point of view of the common good."

The midday hearing was held by the state Public Utilities Commission as part of deliberations in which the regulatory board will decide whether to approve a power-purchase agreement reached by Deepwater Wind, the wind farm developer, and National Grid, the state's dominant electricity utility.

Under the agreement signed last month, Deepwater would sell power from the wind farm to National Grid for 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. The commission must decide over the next three months whether the proposed rate, which is much higher than what the utility pays for energy from conventional sources, is commercially reasonable.

Before it votes March 30, the board will hold a series of hearings, first to solicit comments from the public and then to hear from energy experts and parties that have a formal interest in the project.

The hearing in New Shoreham Town Hall on Tuesday was the first in the process and the only one scheduled on Block Island. Perhaps because of those reasons and the undoubted repercussions for the island, it drew a standing-room-only audience.

The majority of the people interviewed before and after the meeting were supportive of the wind farm. Of the 12 who spoke for the record, half were in favor of the proposal, while half questioned it or were against it.

Kimberly Gaffett, first warden of the Town Council, read a statement adopted by the council Monday night that pledged support for the project.

"From the town's viewpoint, we see a diversity of opinion regarding this project, but the majority believe it could benefit Block Island and other communities in Rhode Island," she said.

Dr. Peter Baute, a councilman and vice president of the 500-member Block Island Residents Association, also spoke for the plan. He and the other members of the residents association's board voted in November to support the wind farm.

He cited for the record the results of a survey of nearly 1,000 Block Island homeowners and voters that was conducted last summer by Roger Williams University and Brown University that showed overwhelming support for the wind farm as long as it is tied directly to the island.

Baute said that support is also contingent on the construction of an underwater electric cable that would connect Block Island to the mainland. The cable would allow Block Island to get power from the state grid when the wind isn't blowing. It would mean the island could take the diesel generators - that are currently its only source of power - off-line.

Energy from those generators is extremely expensive. The rate on Block Island has recently hovered between 30 cents and 40 cents a kilowatt-hour, but in the summer of 2008 it went as high as 66 cents. The rate National Grid charges residential customers in the rest of the state is 14.8 cents per kilowatt-hour.

"This is of enormous economic importance to our citizens," Baute said.

One person who raised concerns about the wind farm was actor Christopher Walken who owns a home on the island with his wife Georgianne.

Walken asked several questions, including why Deepwater needs to build a small wind farm just for Block Island. Couldn't the developer connect the island to a 100-turbine farm proposed further offshore? he asked.

One reason is that Deepwater is planning the Block Island wind farm as a precursor to the utility-scale project. The Block Island project is scheduled to be in the water by 2012 and could be the first offshore wind farm in the country. It could help attract financing for the larger $1.5-billion project.

Also, said Rich, a cable connecting Block Island to the mainland would be built only if the smaller wind farm goes forward. It would not be necessary for the large project. And without the cable, Block Island would have to use the existing diesel generators as a costly source of backup power.

Overall, Rich said he was encouraged by the response at the hearing.

"People have valid concerns, and I think they deserve to be heard," he said.

But others walked away with unanswered questions. Who will pay for the cable to the mainland that is estimated to cost $35 million to $50 million? Will technology that hasn't been tried before in this country work as expected?

"It's a demonstration project," said Georgianne Walken, "and we're the guinea pigs." 


Source: http://www.projo.com/news/c...

JAN 6 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23979-block-island-speaks-up-over-wind-farm-proposal
back to top