Letters to the Editor, Feb. 9, 2013
To: the Editor—
I am writing to express my public opposition to the Deepwater Wind application to build a wind farm off Block Island. I have hesitated expressing my opinion in a public forum so far because, while I am opposed to corporate control of our energy, my primary objection has been emotional, grounded in what I at first thought was aesthetic dismay — I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing those windmills on the wild ocean, but which I realized on further contemplation was a belief that this wild seascape was sacred and should not be altered for the short term needs of humans in transition as industrial capitalism makes a last attempt to buttress a failing system that has put short term profits over the long term interests of all creatures sharing this planet.
From what I’ve observed about the political process in my lifetime, emotional reactions are usually more detrimental than helpful. However, after reading the letter published in last week’s Block Island Times by David Lewis, in which he eloquently merged his emotional reasons for opposing Deepwater Wind with the intellectual, I am moved to add my voice to what I hope will become a growing opposition before it is too late to stop this project.
As David Lewis said, many other voices have expressed their opposition for a variety of reasons. What I would like to add is a call to stand up for something sacred, which in my definition is something that should not ever be bought and sold. We are living in perhaps what is the end of an era where industrialized humans see themselves as the center of the world, a position of arrogance which we have used to justify ecocide and the genocide of cultures that live in closer alignment with Earth and its millions of other non-human residents than we do. I say the end, because there is a good possibility, backed up by scientific evidence for those who need it, that we are rapidly creating conditions which will be uninhabitable to human life.
While green energy like a wind farm may sound like a solution to this problem, it must not come at the expense of the wild. As a student of permaculture I learned that sustainable systems are created by assessing the energy available in a particular place and then creating methods to channel that energy to meet the needs of everyone in the system — people, plants and animals. Basically the way humans lived before industrialized capitalism took over the world, and a way of living in accordance with natural cycles so eloquently documented by Thoreau in “Walden.” Even in the 19th century Thoreau felt a need to escape civilization, writing words that seem prophetic now as we face not only the destruction of our biosphere, but the destruction of the sacred in each one of us if we allow the wild to be destroyed. “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” Thoreau wrote, creating space for hope. It is my hope that others will join me in protest of Deepwater Wind, and in envisioning ways of producing — and consuming — energy that are truly sustainable and local.
A modified version of this letter was also sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Corn Neck Road
This letter regarding the Deepwater Wind Block Island wind farm was sent to the U.S. Army Corps and copied to the Block Island Times:
Please accept these comments on the above topic and respond that you received them. I also pose some questions that should be examined and answered.
My family came to Block Island in 1817.
My wife’s family came to Block Island in 1661.
I have been fully immersed in the Deepwater project since 2009, shortly after the Town Council of New Shoreham allowed a meteorological tower variance in a residential zone for Deepwater Wind on the grounds of an urgent health risk due to stress caused if we did not have a wind farm, due to the diesel generator emitting CO2 and the high cost of power on island. It defied logic and reasonableness then. This was the start (at least on island) of a long and at many times corrupted process for this project.
I have a difficult time reconciling the Coastal Resources Management Council of Rhode Island (CRMC) objectively ruling on this application because of the Joint Development Agreement (JDA) between the state of Rhode Island and Deepwater Wind (see attached). This is why the Army Corps is important.
The JDA states: “The CRMC shall approve the SAMP.” This “Special Area Management Plan” is the basis for the application. Also: The CRMC shall make all reasonable efforts … to obtain all necessary federal, state, and local government permits and approvals” (Sources: JDA page 9, lines 6-9).
The JDA also states: “DWW may terminate this agreement (the JDA and project) if the CRMC takes any action, which, in the reasonable opinion of DWW, materially and adversely affects either Phase I or Phase II of the project.” (Source: JDA section XI, C, 6, Pages 16-17, lines 1-3).
This language (which is still in force today per the developer) appears to make the R.I. CRMC an agent of Deepwater, and/or unable to examine this project in an unbiased and objective manner looking out for the best interests of the public. This is why we need a full Environmental Impact Statement independent of the CRMC performed by the Army Corps.
Please also examine and explain the lack of sufficient analysis and process for decommissioning funds in their application. It lacks sufficient detail typical of other energy installations. In addition, the developer first stated it would cost $10 million (in today’s dollars) to dismantle the wind farm (source: PUC Docket 4185 Bill Moore, DWW CEO 1st Data Request of PUC to DWW, July 2010). They now state that it will cost only $7.5 million, a full 25 percent less. When the total cost for the project has risen since 2010, the funds for dismantling it have been reduced? The Army Corps needs an independent analysis outside of Deepwater’s work performed — where is that analysis?
There have been many collapses of the south bluffs on Block Island due to the last two storms (Sandy, and an unnamed winter storm). The developer does not indicate whether pile driving will impact the integrity of the bluffs. Who is analyzing that? We moved the Southeast Lighthouse (on the National Register) 20 years ago because of erosion of the bluffs, which the Army Corps was involved in. Is there a risk that the Southeast Lighthouse could be impacted by further erosion and collapses, along with other property or structures? Does the developer have proper insurance in the event there are collapses on the bluffs due to pile driving or other activities?
Why is the developer leaving the cable after its useful life on the bottom of the ocean? Who is going to pay to remove that?
What are the cumulative impacts of this project in light of another project 15 miles to the east of this project the developer is bidding on? Where is that analysis? These two (or more) projects need to be examined together in a cumulative and comprehensive manner.
This project belongs in federal waters, at least 10 miles from Block Island as part of Phase II. It is improperly sited a bit more than two miles off our shores offering five 660-foot towers. Some context: there are only two other structures in all of New England taller than the proposal (the Hancock Tower and Prudential Center Tower in Boston). Said another way, we will have five of the seven tallest structures in all of New England right off Block Island. The Army Corps needs to consider and examine the impact of that as it relates to around $200 million in property value that may be impacted (this is the value of the frontage of land to the project according to the town. Source: New Shoreham Tax Assessor’s Office 2012).
For the record (and the staff should read) I also include my comments to the PUC in 2010, which are all still relevant today. I also attach the JDA between the state and the developer for reference.
Please reject this project and/or perform a full Environmental Impact Statement as the R.I. CRMC has been compromised by the JDA between the state of Rhode Island and Deepwater Wind and many, many questions remain.
This letter was sent to the Town Council and copied to the Block Island Times:
I would like to direct your attention to specific testimony provided by Deepwater Wind in Docket 4185 at the RI Public Utilities Commission concerning Decommissioning Costs.
In Deepwater Wind’s Response to R.I. PUC Data Request Set No. 5, Response Comm 5-3, Mr. William Moore, CEO of Deepwater, testified that “Deepwater Wind allocated $10 million in the last year of the PPA to pay for decommissioning.” Please be aware that the last year of the PPA is the year 2032 (the “PPA” is the pending Power Purchase Agreement between Deepwater and National Grid).
The testimony confirms that it is Deepwater’s intention not to fund Decommissioning Costs until the 20th year of the PPA, assuming the wind farm generates power that can be sold in that year. Accordingly, if the wind farm does not survive until the year 2032, there will be NO funding for the Decommissioning Costs. No Town Council member would be acting in the interest of the island, its coastline, and its residents if he or she would let such assumption occur.
Quite the opposite should be pursued. Consider, for example, if the wind farm is constructed and operates for just one year. In that case, the entire amount of the Decommissioning Costs would still be needed to remove the project. Deepwater would have one believe that it would have warranty recourse to “one of the largest and most renowned manufacturer,” insurance or bonding rights to fund the Decommissioning Rights. These credit support sources should only be looked to AFTER more certain funding sources are arranged. After all, it was just four years ago that the world’s largest corporations (GM and others) went into unexpected bankruptcy, discharging the vast majority of their unsecured creditor obligations including warranties, trade guarantees and bonds. Additionally, any commercial law attorney will inform you that the scale of a warranty claim or bond demand underlying the wind farm would be tied up in subrogation and other litigation for an indefinite period, this occurring while the wind farm lay in waste waiting for Decommissioning Funding.
In fact, the only wise action would require a cash escrow of the entire $10 million Decommissioning Costs up front, on the date of first operation. Conveniently, Deepwater expects to generate over $55 million in free cashflow at this time from Federal Investment Tax Credits. So, there will be plenty cash around to do so. Cash escrows are the norm in business purchase and sale transactions to back up indemnity obligations between transacting parties since the solvency or availability of those parties at a later date to satisfy indemnity claims is uncertain. This requirement would be consistent with what the Rhode Island Department of Administration required of Deepwater when it was designated the Preferred Developer under the Joint Development Agreement with the State of Rhode Island in 2009.
Therein, the State required Deepwater to fund $3.2 million in cash into escrow in order to reimburse the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) for its own expenses that were to be incurred with the development of the Special Area Management Plan (SAMP).
The only alternative to a cash escrow funded on the date of first operation would be a requirement that Deepwater provide an irrevocable letter of credit from a national lending institution acceptable to the Town of New Shoreham and the State of Rhode Island in the amount of $10,000,000. There is no logical argument to the suggestion that the Town or State should bear any risk of the full funding of the Decommissioning Costs at any time after the Wind Farm’s first date of operation. Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please contact me.
This letter was sent to an island realtor and copied to the Block Island Times:
This year marks our 30th year of making Block Island our summer vacation choice.
From that very first year when my wife and I stayed at the Spring House and the many years following that we stayed at dozens of other homes with our family and friends, we have always loved and respected what islanders call their home. We have never forgotten that we are just privileged visitors to a truly unique and beautiful space, whose preservation of the natural environment around it is to be admired and encouraged.
This year, three generations of our family will be visiting the Block — the youngest just over one year old. We have gone from that single room at the Spring House to a “sleeps 10.” We desperately want our four grandsons and one granddaughter to also experience the unique beauty that is “The Block” and hopefully pass it on to their children in the years to come.
Sadly, this year may also be the last year we spend vacationing on Block Island — and not of our own choice!
Last year, we saw a change that made us very uncomfortable. At first, we thought it was because of the increased interest in families visiting and the increase in home rentals. This issue had never been a major problem in all the years before.
Last year, despite the fact that we called for ferry reservations in January as usual, we were not able to get a confirmed ferry departure time out of Pt. Judith until late in the afternoon, sometime after 4 p.m., I believe — and this was only because we called consistently for six months before! Despite getting there hours early, standby in Pt. Judith was useless and managing three young children for that many hours there was a horrible experience!
That of course cost us the entire first day of our vacation on B.I. because by the time we settled into our rental, it was dark.
The departure time they gave us coming off the island on our last day, never changed, despite our attempts — it was 8 p.m.! We were told to get on “standby” — which we did — at 10 a.m., having vacated the rental home earlier than necessary. We waited in a very long line all day — again with three small children and only public bathrooms.
After nine torturous hours in the parking lot on a “standby” line, I counted no more than seven or eight cars getting on earlier ferries! At 8 p.m., we simply got on the ferry we were originally assigned, getting back to our homes in New York — a four-hour car drive — in the wee hours of the following morning. The nine hours on standby also cost us most of our final day of vacation. Thank God it wasn’t raining!
This year, when we made our ferry reservation in early January again, we were shocked to be told that the only times available were 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. leaving Pt. Judith and 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. leaving Block Island! Once again, the ferry schedule of the Block Island Ferry and Interstate Navigation Company will make our 2013 vacation trip a nightmare!
As a Block Island realtor that we have worked with and trust, we sincerely request that you approach the ferry company with our concerns. Surely, we can’t be the only families with this problem. Even if the fee is raised to provide additional ferries or scheduled runs, I’m confident that most would be willing to pay them in order to continue the love affair we all share with your beautiful island.
I know we are the voice of only one renter but, unless we can be assured by the ferry company that they will try to do something to remedy this problem, we will be forced to say “goodbye” to Block Island in 2014 and for all of the summers ahead — ending a wonderful family tradition.
Chris and Angela Salvo
This letter was sent to state Sen. Susan Sosnowski and Rep. Donna Walsh and copied to the Block Island Times:
My wife and I own a home on Block Island, although we are legal residents of Massachusetts.
Our 29-year-old daughter married here in Massachusetts three years ago. Her wife is a wonderful woman, the best daughter-in-law we could ask for. She and my daughter deeply love each other and have found ways to navigate together the usual career, logistics and family issues of a typical young couple. They remind my wife and me of ourselves as we began what is now 38 years of marriage. We do not know how they will do so, but we and the other parents look forward to grandchildren. My daughter has a gifted touch with children and I would expect her to be an excellent mother. Given what they are accomplishing as a couple and the travails of relationships, there is nothing more about them I, as a parent, could ask for. Everyone who knows them realizes that we would all be blessed with more such happy, loving relationships.
Yet their choices on where to live and how they deal with state and federal legal issues are always complex. Their choices are now artificially limited. While we were pleased that they could get married in Massachusetts, they could not do so in Florida where the other family lives. This was a sadness for all.
Now Rhode Island has the opportunity to help other couples like my daughter and daughter-in-law. I urge you to support expansion of same sex marriage into Rhode Island to benefit families like ours. Thank you.
Corn Neck Road and Arlington, Mass.