Deepwater project still controversial
After almost five-and-a-half years since Deepwater Wind first proposed the Block Island wind farm, the project is now beginning the final stages of approval before construction.
The $205 million project still elicits a wide range of opinions, as interviews conducted by The Block Island Times attest.
In addition, a Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) staff report stated that the CRMC received 78 written comments regarding Deepwater. Of these, 19 were in favor of Deepwater, the remaining were 57 in opposition to all or part of the project. The CRMC also received a petition with 215 signatures, said the staff report.
“The state of Rhode Island just wanted this so badly, I think they stopped really thinking about the project from the world as it is right now,” said island summer resident Maggie Delia, who, along with her husband Michael, has been an opponent to the project. “They’re not really looking at this project... it just doesn’t make sense from the point of view of the island, the state, businesses, and for our ocean.”
Various state and federal agencies must grant Deepwater permits to build the wind farm. The CRMC is the state agency responsible for this permitting, and has scheduled two public hearings, the first on Feb. 4 on the mainland and the second on Feb. 24 on Block Island. Following these two hearings, the CRMC Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OSAMP) subcommittee will issue a recommendation to the CRMC, which is responsible for approving or denying Deepwater its permit.
Delia said she will not be able to make the Feb. 4 hearing.
“It’s consistent with how this whole process has been that they’re going to have these meetings in the dead of winter,” said Delia.
Island resident Michael Hickey echoed Delia’s comments about the timing of the Feb. 4 hearing.
“It’s very disappointing that they hold these meetings in February. It’s almost like they’re trying to suppress public participation,” said Hickey.
Hickey also weighed in on a staff report compiled by the CRMC.
CRMC staff members compiled a report that will act as an advisory opinion to the OSAMP subcommittee. This report found ‘no objection’ to the Deepwater Project. (See related story)
“I don’t think the report provides sufficient detail of the decommissioning process,” he said, referring to how the turbines will be removed once they reach end-of-life, or are no longer operational.
Hickey added, “It’s the Town Council’s responsibility to make sure the decommissioning process is airtight.”
Locally, the Block Island Town Council is expected to decide on its official position at a council meeting on Feb. 3, said First Warden Kim Gaffett.
Gaffett also said she will attend the Feb. 4 hearing, but added she wasn’t sure if she would be attending in her capacity as First Warden or as a private citizen.
She declined to state her position on the wind farm, but added, “My opinions haven’t changed that much.” She has previously voted in favor of the project.
Councilor Norris Pike said he also plans to attend the hearing. Councilor Gary Ryan said he could not make it; Chris Warfel and Second Warden Ken Lacoste were not sure if they would.
Norris Pike spoke in favor of the project to The Block Island Times.
Gary Ryan said he was still learning about the project and planned to meet with Bryan Wilson, Deepwater’s Block Island Wind Farm project manager, to ask questions.
However, Ryan added, “I think it’s coming. I think we’ve got to do what’s best for the island.”
Second Warden Ken Lacoste predicted that the Town Council vote on Feb. 3 would be a “split vote.” In Dec. 2012, the council voted 3-2 to support the project; former councilor Sean McGarry and Warfel had been opposed.
When asked by The Block Island Times this week, Chris Warfel again spoke in opposition to the Deepwater project.
“I think it’s a really bad agreement for the economy of Rhode Island,” Warfel said. He criticized both state and local government for its process in reviewing the project thus far.
On the state level, “Every time any state agency has shown independence [in reviewing Deepwater] they’ve been backed down by the legislature. No one should assume there is professional, independent analysis of Deepwater on the state level.”
On the local level, he said there were better options for the island instead of Deepwater, such as a “micro grid” system, or a combination of solar power, energy management, and conservation. However, he said the town has ignored “repeated efforts by experts to show methods by which costs for electricity and other energy could be lower than anything that the cable would provide.”