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Block Island divided over wind farm

"Block Island is most at-risk with this project," said Michael Hickey. ...Nobody has more to lose than Block Island if this project does not work out as planned." He and others say the price of wind power has been inflated to cover any risk Deepwater is exposed to. "I also object to the fact that the ratepayers of Rhode Island are being asked to subsidize this experiment," said John Hopf.

NEW SHOREHAM - One thing was clear at a public hearing Thursday on a proposal to put up eight offshore wind turbines within view of Block Island: opinion among islanders is hopelessly divided.

The Town Council supports the plan as does the Block Island Residents Association, which represents 500 households. They and other backers say the wind farm will bring cleaner, cheaper energy to an island that relies entirely on diesel generators for its electricity.

But some islanders - summer residents as well as members of the 1,000-strong year-round population - say the proposal will not only irreparably harm pristine ocean views but also may not bring the promised savings on energy.

Representatives of both sides were among the more than 80 people who came out Thursday to the Block Island School for a public hearing on the project. Of the 29 people who spoke, 16 were in favor and 13 were against.

"The topic of community support is now sufficiently polarized that nobody knows for sure," resident David Lewis announced at the meeting inside the school library.

It was the third hearing the state Public Utilities Commission has hosted on the island this year, but only the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

NEW SHOREHAM - One thing was clear at a public hearing Thursday on a proposal to put up eight offshore wind turbines within view of Block Island: opinion among islanders is hopelessly divided.

The Town Council supports the plan as does the Block Island Residents Association, which represents 500 households. They and other backers say the wind farm will bring cleaner, cheaper energy to an island that relies entirely on diesel generators for its electricity.

But some islanders - summer residents as well as members of the 1,000-strong year-round population - say the proposal will not only irreparably harm pristine ocean views but also may not bring the promised savings on energy.

Representatives of both sides were among the more than 80 people who came out Thursday to the Block Island School for a public hearing on the project. Of the 29 people who spoke, 16 were in favor and 13 were against.

"The topic of community support is now sufficiently polarized that nobody knows for sure," resident David Lewis announced at the meeting inside the school library.

It was the third hearing the state Public Utilities Commission has hosted on the island this year, but only the first one since developer Deepwater Wind and National Grid filed a new power-purchase agreement with the three-member regulatory board on June 30.

The previous hearings were held as part of the PUC's review of the original proposed contract between Deepwater and National Grid, Rhode Island's dominant utility. Those deliberations resulted in the commission rejecting the agreement because it judged the starting price for wind power of 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour to be too high.

The amended contract is based on the same price but it leaves open the possibility for a decrease if Deepwater saves on development costs, which are estimated at $205 million. Even if the price were lowered, however, it would still be significantly higher than the rate of 9.5 cents per kilowatt-hour National Grid pays for energy from conventional sources.

But Block Island isn't connected to the electric system that serves the rest of the state. Islanders pay electric rates up to four times higher than those on the mainland for the diesel-powered energy.

So, even the relatively high price of wind power could lead to savings for island residents and businesses. Barbara MacMillan, a member of New Shoreham's electric utility task group, said the wind farm could save the island $1.3 million a year on electricity, a 30-percent reduction.

Susan Walsh, owner of the Albion Pub - one of the few island restaurants that operate all year - told the commission that those savings can't come soon enough.

"This past winter was extremely difficult for us to stay open," she said. "We had to reduce our refrigeration because the costs were so high."

Still, objectors to the wind farm say it offers no guarantees of success and, in the long term, could harm tourism.

"Block Island is most at-risk with this project," said Michael Hickey. "It's not [investor] D.E. Shaw. It's not Deepwater. It's not the state. Nobody has more to lose than Block Island if this project does not work out as planned."

He and others say the price of wind power has been inflated to cover any risk Deepwater is exposed to.

"I also object to the fact that the ratepayers of Rhode Island are being asked to subsidize this experiment," said John Hopf.

Town Council candidate Terry Mooney said the state fell for the sales pitch of an unproven developer. He called it the "Rhode Island razzle-dazzle."

But other islanders spoke of the need to develop renewable sources of energy to reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels. Several speakers made reference to the oil spill in the Gulf.

"What is proposed is that we change our allegiance from oil to wind," said teacher Nancy Greenaway. "Change of any kind can be daunting. ... We can be frightened by that prospect, or exhilarated."

Kim Gaffett, first warden of the Town Council, said the island has no choice but to rein in electricity rates to ensure that younger residents can afford to remain there.

"We have to experience change on Block Island," she said. "You may not like it, but it's for the good of the people."


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

JUL 23 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/27374-block-island-divided-over-wind-farm
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