On Dec. 12, Deepwater Wind, developers of the Block Island Wind Farm, announced it had "flipped the switch" and the turbines were in commercial operation, producing "clean, affordable" electricity for the people of Block Island, Rhode Island and (presumably) New England.
Let's review the bidding and assess the value of this project. The electricity ratepayers of Rhode Island deserve an accounting.
The main benefits of the wind farm, proclaimed by its proponents at the outset of the project, were:
— Block Islanders would see reductions in their electricity bills of up to 40 percent.
— The wind turbines would be hardly noticeable.
— The wind farm would be a leader in the fight against global climate change, saving the planet and making Rhode Island a "green" state.
Politicians - federal, state and local - jumped on the bandwagon celebrating the arrival of "clean, affordable electricity." If this all sounds reminiscent of the lead up to the 38 Studios debacle, it was. None of these benefits, and others also promised, are materializing.
Fact: Block Islanders were told last year by John Bell, a rate expert from the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities, that they would see little, if any, reduction in their electricity rates. Space does not allow me to explain the complex structure of how Block Island ratepayers will eventually be billed for electricity, but Mr. Bell was correct. There will be no significant cost savings for those ratepayers.
Fact: The wind turbines are hardly unobtrusive. Viewing them from the lawn of the Southeast Lighthouse last fall, I was stunned by how close they seemed, how they dominate the view. Some may argue that will attract tourists to the island. Some residents of the south shore, however, may feel that their pristine view of the Atlantic has been converted into a cluttered industrial landscape of considerably less aesthetic value, one that may ultimately reduce the value of their properties. While this may seem inconsequential to those who don't own such real estate, a deterioration of real estate values could eventually reduce the tax revenues that New Shoreham relies on to fund its operations, consequentially raising tax rates for all.
Fact: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report explicitly warns that global climate change patterns are irreversible, even if carbon dioxide emissions are reduced to zero. That means that the wind turbines don't help at all in a fruitless fight against climate change. Rather, our money ought to go into mitigation of the negative effects of climate change. One example of such mitigation is the state's effort to shore up the bluff in East Matunuck. Not so glamorous, perhaps, but probably a harbinger of our future.
The only winners in this whole mess are the investors. No attention has been paid to why the investors might have thought this was a good deal. The answer is what I call "the prize money." When the development is completed and the wind turbines are brought online, the investors will be rewarded by the federal treasury with a check for an estimated $100 million. That is far more than they risked on the project; a handsome prize, indeed.
But, who will ultimately pay for this roughly $400 million project? Yes, you guessed it, the people of Rhode Island, and we didn't even get to vote on it.
It does remind one of 38 Studios, doesn't it? But, while the investors in 38 Studios may have lost everything they put into it, in this case the investors have hit the jackpot. Rhode Island has bought another pothole.
Zachariah Allen, of Perryville, has worked since 1975 as a consultant and project development adviser in the energy industry.