NARRAGANSETT - The Deepwater Wind project has divided locals since it set its sights on Narragansett in 2013. The project, which will become America’s first offshore wind farm, will install five, 30 megawatt turbines off the coast of Block Island that will provide clean energy for the state via an undersea cable connecting to the mainland. The turbines and cable will also put Block Island on the grid for the first time, eliminating the need for the two diesel generators that currently power the entire island. Local sentiment, however, has been mixed, as the Narragansett Town Council rejected Deepwater Wind’s proposal to land their cable on the town beach in 2013. Afterward, the energy company gained state approval to run the cable through Scarborough Beach, its adjoining parking lot and along Route 108, all state-owned property, ending at a yet-to-be-built National Grid switch station in the Dillon Rotary. While some see the project as a necessary step in the right direction toward clean energy, others are fed up with the construction taking place across town and the incomplete patch jobs done on Point Judith Road and elsewhere along the cable’s route. The project, however, has now garnered a federal reaction as it enters its final phase of construction. 

“This can and must be the beginning of something big, a new clean energy chapter for America that can create thousands of jobs and protect wildlife and communities from the dangers of climate change,” said Catherine Bowes, senior manager for climate and energy at the National Wildlife Federation’s (NFW) Northeast Regional Center. “Conservationists have spent over a decade pushing for wildlife-friendly offshore wind power, and it’s gratifying to finally see this new clean energy industry launch right here in New England.”

“Now is the moment for state leaders along the coast to make bold commitments to offshore wind power and seize this golden opportunity off their shores,” she continued. “Today’s turbine installation shows that offshore wind power is a real, viable option for states along the coast to transition to clean energy - in Block Island’s case, this project will replace the dirty, expensive diesel oil generator that has powered the island for decades.”

With leaders at the federal level pushing for more off-shore wind power, the future of the RI coast could be defined by the government’s willingness to listen to its Wildlife Federation branch. The Narragansett Times spoke with Bowes on Tuesday afternoon, during which time she spoke to the benefits of off-shore power, as well as expressed excitement for the emerging industry, which the NWF has been promoting since 2009.

“We put a lot of time and resources into pushing states along the coast to really get serious about off-shore wind,” she said. “This is a huge victory for us. We’ve been at this for years and we haven’t had a bigger week. Along with the Block Island project going up, yesterday I was in Boston and I watched Gov. Baker sign an energy bill that commits Massachusetts to purchasing 1,600 megawatts of off-shore wind power. Also, last week, Gov. Cuomo in New York finalized a clean energy standard for New York that commits the state to getting 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030. Things are finally breaking, here in the Northeast in particular.”

The Narragansett Times then questioned what benefitsoff-shore wind power has over other renewable energy sources such as solar power or on-shore wind farms. Bowes responded with a list of reasons, while maintaining that she doesn’t see the issue as an “either or” choice, and that “we need all the clean energy we can get to really power the transition to a clean energy economy.”

“The first is that [off-shore wind farms] are a massive, massive resource. There’s so much energy out there. When you think about the densely-populated eastern seaboard, there aren’t a lot of places to put large-scale renewable energy sources. We can’t put big wind farms in New York City.”

“Number two is the fact that it produces power when and where we need it,” she continued. “Off-shore wind, unlike on-shore wind, produces the most power at the times the grid needs it most. Afternoons, heat waves, winter cold snaps, that’s when the wind is really blowing to beat the band out there. It’s a very helpful correspondence with those peak demand times.”

“There’s a crossroads of sorts that we’re at now, where you have aging nuclear and coal plants going offline, you’ve got a huge influx of natural gas and you have this overlay of policy goals to cut climate pollution and produce clean energy,” Bowes elaborated. “States are wondering how to get there and they have a variety of options. Off-shore wind power is a very appealing one.”

Bowes continued to state that off-shore wind farms can be installed in an environmentally-friendly way, and that the industry would create many jobs for the states who embraced it the way Rhode Island has.

“Rhode Island should be proud of itself,” Bowes concluded.

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(1) comment

MyronW

Nice review of the project from the point of view of the Feds who are encouraging and paying for off-shore windpower with our tax money. The island may not see the several polluting Diesel generators become cold quite yet as the cable to the mainland is a 2-way cable and opens up the Block Island Power Company's eyes to the idea of selling Diesel generated electricity to whole Northeast grid. With the pending sale of the BI power company, no one is quite sure if the island will continue to be smogged by the generators' fumes.

There are two issues that were never fully discussed or adequately studied prior to approval of the BI wind turbine project. One deals with how well the ocean does not absorb sound. This is relevant because the 5 industrial generator factories at sea will generate substantial noise. The effects of the 24/7 noise on people is yet to be observed. Unfortunately, it can not be attenuated.

The other issue is security. With 5 industrial plants off-shore there will be no people on board. These are really drones remotely operated via a fiber based Internet connection. Expect hackers world-wide to accept a challenge to crack the system. I would think that having blades with the surface area of a football field travelling at 200 MPH and weighing over 30 Tons each could be subject to a hacker's command to "run free" resulting in a catastrophic failure. In today's world hacking is a growing danger.

Given that the full force of the 5 turbines means an additional 1% more power for the state, I think that the risks to health, equipment and economy are out-weighted by reason. Many people feel that we need to iron out "free energy" generating issues at any cost. Perhaps they have a point but Rhode Island is not the proper venue as we simply can't afford it considering our precarious fiscal condition, lack of great leadership history and the limited financial resources necessary to cover the risks.

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