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Carcieri's energy goal a long way off

Providence Business Journal|David Ortiz|March 17, 2008
Rhode IslandEnergy PolicyZoning/Planning

A New York-based investment firm that caught state officials off guard last fall with a proposal to build up to 338 wind turbines in Rhode Island waters now says it wants to pay for a meteorological tower needed to draft zoning regulations for development of a wind farm. The proposal was made public last week at a hearing during which R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council - the state agency that regulates Rhode Island's waters voted unanimously to put off a decision about placing a one-year moratorium on all offshore alternative energy projects, something the agency's staff proposed following the New York firm's surprise wind-farm application. ...Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's ambitious goal to produce a minimum of 15 percent of Rhode Island's energy needs through the development of wind-, wave- and solar-energy sources by 2011 is almost certainly not going to happen.


A New York-based investment firm that caught state officials off guard last fall with a proposal to build up to 338 wind turbines in Rhode Island waters now says it wants to pay for a meteorological tower needed to draft zoning regulations for development of a wind farm.

The proposal was made public last week at a hearing during which R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council - the state agency that regulates Rhode Island's waters voted unanimously to put off a decision about placing a one-year moratorium on all offshore alternative energy projects, something the agency's staff proposed following the New York firm's surprise wind-farm application.

Still unanswered after the hearing is the question of when developers can begin competing to build wind farms off Rhode Island's coastline, and who will control the process.

What is becoming clear, however, is that - barring a change in course for the state's still-evolving policy on renewable energy - Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's ambitious goal to produce a minimum of 15 percent of Rhode Island's energy needs through ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

     

A New York-based investment firm that caught state officials off guard last fall with a proposal to build up to 338 wind turbines in Rhode Island waters now says it wants to pay for a meteorological tower needed to draft zoning regulations for development of a wind farm.

The proposal was made public last week at a hearing during which R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council - the state agency that regulates Rhode Island's waters voted unanimously to put off a decision about placing a one-year moratorium on all offshore alternative energy projects, something the agency's staff proposed following the New York firm's surprise wind-farm application.

Still unanswered after the hearing is the question of when developers can begin competing to build wind farms off Rhode Island's coastline, and who will control the process.

What is becoming clear, however, is that - barring a change in course for the state's still-evolving policy on renewable energy - Gov. Donald L. Carcieri's ambitious goal to produce a minimum of 15 percent of Rhode Island's energy needs through the development of wind-, wave- and solar-energy sources by 2011 is almost certainly not going to happen.

Allco Renewable Energy Group Ltd., the New York-based investment firm that last September submitted a preliminary application to build up to 338 wind turbines in Rhode Island waters has been discussing with Carcieri's staff and members of the R.I. General Assembly a joint venture in which Allco would pay for the construction of at least one meteorological or "met" tower to collect data regarding wind speed and direction.

Allco would be willing to sign a memorandum of understanding under which the company would sell the data collected by the met tower to either the state or another developer in the event that Allco did not win the development rights, said Bill Fischer, a spokesman for the company.

Allco is also in discussions with parties on Block Island to build a met tower on the island itself, possibly using existing cell towers or radio towers to gather initial data, Fischer said.

"There is a clear desire for the development of renewable energy for the residents of Block Island," he said. "We would clearly be inclined to want to see a met tower placed off the coast of Block Island, there's no doubt about that."

Decisions about where to construct a met tower - which would cost at least $2 million - is crucial to developers, because banks and renewable energy investors require at least two years of wind data before they will invest in a wind-energy project at a particular location.

Malcolm L. Spaulding, a professor of ocean engineering at the University of Rhode Island and director of the URI Center of Excellence in Undersea Technology, would head a team of 35 URI researchers working with the CRMC to draft ocean-zoning regulations in Narragansett Bay.

He said he would like to see a met tower built in waters off Charlestown.

A meteorological tower there could continue as a scientific research station for the university after the zoning regulations are drafted, and would also enable Rhode Island to take part in a federal agency's work to develop a regional ocean observing system. But a met tower there would not collect data that could be used to fund the development of a wind farm off Block Island, both Spaulding and Fischer agreed.

Jeff Neal, Carcieri's spokesman, could not say before press time what position the governor might take on Allco's proposal.

At the public hearing, Grover Fugate, the CRMC's executive director, said that the ocean-zoning regulations the agency hopes to begin drafting in the coming months to find suitable locations for wind farms would take at least two years to complete.

Almost every party with an interest in wind-energy development agrees with Fugate's plan to create a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for Narragansett Bay, including the R.I. Dept. of Environmental Management, the R.I. Office of Energy Resources, two agencies that regulate federal waters, environmental groups and at least two wind-farm developers interested in building in the state.

Drafting a SAMP for Narragansett Bay would be a public process that protects the interests of the fishing industry, conservationists and other stakeholders and provides permitting predictability to developers, avoiding the risk that wind farm proposals get bogged down by lawsuits or bureaucratic morass, Fugate said.

If the SAMP is not drafted, Rhode Island would cede control of permitting wind-farm proposals to a Byzantine federal process, involving both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Minerals Management Service, that Fugate said would take four to seven years.

The question of whether a one-year hold should be placed on alternative-energy proposals while ocean zoning regulations are drafted continues to divide the Carcieri administration and CRMC staff, which proposed the moratorium.

Fugate said the moratorium, which could be lifted after one year while work on the SAMP continued, would give the CRMC breathing room to get zoning regulations in place without distraction, and also prevents obviously inappropriate development proposals from turning local public opinion against the development of any wind-energy projects.

"It just becomes essentially like the Wild West, without any control over where you're going to allow and accept applications," he said.

But Carcieri believes putting a moratorium on proposals sends the wrong message to major wind-energy developers.

Critics of the moratorium are also concerned about blocking development proposals until regulations are in place because CRMC currently lacks funding to create the SAMP plan.

The CRMC is pursuing federal funding for the work - which Fugate estimated would cost $6.7 million - from the U.S. Deptartment of Energy and from money that would be made available to states if Congress enacts the Coastal Zone Act.

But it could take several months for the CRMC to find out how much - if any - federal money will be available, Fugate said. Rhode Island's Renewable Energy Fund, which currently contains close to $4 million, also could be tapped for the SAMP work, he said.

Andrew Dzykewicz, Carcieri's top energy adviser and commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources, said the cost of constructing wind-energy projects goes up every day, and that a delay of a couple of years in permitting development of a wind farm would increase the project's cost by up to 15 percent.

"We need to be careful that we do the permitting correctly, but that we do it expeditiously," he said.

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Source:http://www.pbn.com/stories/30…

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