The Block Island Times

PUC briefly considered standalone cable need in 2010

Wind farm contract closed the docket
By Stephanie Turaj | Jan 05, 2013

There has been some discussion lately as to the scope of a past Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) docket, which was to look into the need for a standalone electric transmission cable connecting Block Island to the mainland.

In March 2010, when the PUC unanimously denied the first power agreement submitted by Deepwater Wind and National Grid for the proposed Block Island wind farm, the commissioners suggested a docket be opened to consider a standalone cable.

“Block Island has a problem, and Block Island's problems need to be solved,”   Commissioner Paul Roberti said at the time.

On May 27, 2010, the commission did open docket 4179 “to investigate whether there is a public need to construct a transmission cable line between Block Island and the mainland Rhode Island,”  say PUC minutes from that date.

The PUC opened the docket in a 2-0 vote, with Roberti abstaining. “He opined that it is best to wait until the legislative session ends and see what action is taken on the pending wind power legislation,” say the PUC minutes.

But in August 2010, after the General Assembly passed legislation that spelled out what the commission was to weigh when considering the wind farm contract, the PUC approved a slightly modified agreement between Deepwater and National Grid for the Block Island wind farm.

With the power agreement approved, the PUC dropped the standalone cable docket.

The PUC never specifically offered a cable to Block Island in 2010, nor did it come up with a cost for a cable or determine who would pay for it.

“The commission didn't walk in with a preconception of what was going to happen,” said PUC Legal Counsel Cindy Wilson-Frias.

Deepwater Wind's proposal to install a five-turbine wind farm off the coast of Block Island includes an electric transmission cable connecting the island to the mainland, as well as a separate cable connecting the wind farm to the island. The longer cable would be capable of transmitting wind farm electricity to the mainland via the island, and would also provide for electricity to come from the mainland to the island.

The town's Electric Utilities Task Group (EUTG) recommendation — which the Town Council has sent to state and federal permitting agencies — said that pursuing a standalone cable separate from the Deepwater project would not make financial sense.

“Based on the estimated cost of a cable in all of the studies done to date, the expense of the cable would be greater than the savings if Block Island customers alone bear the cost,” said the EUTG recommendation. “Moreover, based on engineering estimates of the cost to install a cable, $20 to $40 million.”

Some Deepwater opponents disagreed with the EUTG statement. Rosemarie Ives wrote a letter to the Block Island Times in December, saying, “The PUC stated that they were committed to opening up a docket specifically for a Block Island cable and distribution service that would be paid for by all ratepayers in the state... Although the Electric Utilities Task Group has devoted much time to this project, its majority has been very vocal DWW proponents and have allowed their biases to totally ignore the PUC’s offer of a cable in 2010 at the annual expense of $2 million for a total of $6 million by island ratepayers thus far.”

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