RI questions huge, new offshore wind farm proposal

Air Power - Wind farms: Heading to the R.I. coast?

A New York investment company has become the first to propose developing extensive wind farms off Rhode Island’s shore. It plans to erect 235 to 338 large wind turbines in state waters just off Watch Hill, Block Island and Little Compton.
   The Allco Renewable Energy Group Limited says it is considering erecting turbines whose blades are 295 feet in diameter, mounted on towers that would rise 345 feet above the water. All would be within a few miles of the Rhode Island coastline.
Allco proposes to start construction in the first quarter of 2009 and go into commercial service a year later.
   But if experience with other wind farm plans is any judge, the company may be beginning what could be years of hearings, studies and testing.
   The first offshore wind farm proposed in America was by Cape Wind for federal waters in Nantucket Sound more than five years ago. Opponents have bitterly fought that wind farm. A spokesman for Cape Wind said the company hopes to get its final permit in another year.
   While many people want to see wind farms developed to provide clean, renewable energy, there seem to be opponents at every site, complaining about harming the views or wildlife or endangering navigation.
   The Cape Wind project has faced extraordinary opposition, yet it is significantly further offshore than the proposals for Rhode Island.
   Neither Allco nor the state intended to make the company’s plans public this week. On Sept. 21, the company submitted documents called Preliminary Determination Request Forms to the Coastal Resources  Management Council, along with $8,000 in application fees. CRMC regulates activities along the state’s coastline.
   Laura Ricketson-Dwyer, the agency’s information coordinator, said the form is basically an announcement of a company’s general intentions so that CRMC can respond and lay out exactly what information should be submitted in a formal application.
   “It is not an official thing,” Ricketson-Dwyer said. “We normally don’t comment until an application is received.”
   Ricketson said many preliminary determination forms don’t become formal applications and this one is even more speculative than usual because CRMC has no rules for wind farm applications. So CRMC has some work to do before it responds to the proposal.
   “Since this is a first for us and we don’t have a laundry list of application requirements, we don’t know how long it will take for us to respond,” she said.
   Earlier this week, CRMC Chairman Michael Tikoian announced at a conference that due to pressure to develop wind farms and LNG ports, he had directed CRMC staff to begin planning for multiple uses of Rhode Island’s ocean waters — up to three miles offshore and three miles around Block Island.
   When staff members were asked to explain what was motivating the new initiative, executive director Grover Fugate said the agency had been approached by a New York firm seeking to develop four sites off Rhode Island’s coastl for wind farms of varying size.
Fugate said CRMC wants to plan to protect areas that are used for ferry routes, or are of value to fishermen.
   Documents Allco filed with CRMC give a brief description of the company’s plans. Telephone calls to senior vice president Gordon D. Alter, who signed the documents, were not answered. Nor were calls to Chris Whitman and Jim Wavle, identified as managing directors on the company’s Web site.
   The Allco documents show that the company utilized a report commissioned by Governor Carcieri as he prepares to build a state-owned wind farm in Rhode Island waters. The $380,000 study identified 10 offshore sites, and one on land, as having the potential to support a wind farm comparable to the Cape Wind project, at a projected cost of $900 million to $1.9 billion.
Allco proposes using four of those sites for its projects.
   Andrew Dzykewicz, Carcieri’s chief energy adviser, did not return a call seeking to find out whether the Allco proposal conflicts with the governor’s plans. Dzykewicz was aware that the proposal had been made, however, according to Jeff Neal, Carcieri’s spokesman.
   In his proposal, Allco’s Alter described his company as a New York-based private investment banking firm specializing in project development. He said Allco holds a controlling interest in Outland Renewable Energy LLC, which he described as a wind development company based in Chaska, Minn.
   “Allco recognizes that an offshore wind energy project must be harmoniously integrated with existing environmental, recreational, and commercial uses in Rhode Island waters,” Alter wrote to CRMC. “Allco is committed to undertaking such a project in partnership with the state of Rhode Island and other stakeholders in the project areas so that the goals and concerns of all stakeholders are met and properly addressed.”
   At each of the four sites, Allco wants a permit to set up a meteorological station to collect wind speed data, and then later, build anywhere from 50 to 130 turbines.
   The towers would be based on structures up to 18 feet in diameter, driven 50 to 90 feet into the seabed. For turbines, the company said it is considering the Vestas 3.0 MW turbine, the Siemens 3.6 MW or the General Electric 3.6 MW.
   Allco writes that it would assemble its turbines at Quonset Point.
   The company proposes arraying 50 to 84 turbines in a 3-to-6.5-square-mile area just south of Block Island. It wants to erect 85 to 120 turbines in a 5-to-9-square-mile area just south of Little Compton and Middletown. It wants to put up 50 to 84 turbines in a 3-to-6.5-square-mile area just a bit south of the Little Compton site. Finally, it wants to put up 50 turbines in 3 to 4 square miles just southwest of Watch Hill and Napatree Point.
Mark Rodgers, communications director for the Cape Wind project, said yesterday he hadn’t heard of Allco or its proposal. While the world of wind energy is a small one, it’s also an emerging technology, he said, so he’s not surprised at new companies entering the market.
   Rodgers warned that while new applications are continually being filed around the country, companies also are dropping their plans in the face of community opposition or other obstacles.
“It’s a lot easier to file a permit application than to see the process through,” said Rodgers, whose company has faced years of political and legal obstacles.

A British seascape
The Rhode Island shoreline could look like this in two years. 

State questions proposal for wind turbines
Announcement in Projo yesterday (on right)

By Peter B. Lord, Journal Environment Writer

Governor Carcieri’s chief energy adviser, Andrew Dzykewicz, was dismissive of the New York company that is proposing to bring wind farms to Rhode Island’s coastal waters and said the state plans to continue with its own wind farm project so it can control the power output.

Dzykewicz said Carcieri hopes to have the state start its own permit application process by the end of the year. If the state resolves all of the permitting issues in a non-adversarial process, it could then sell the permit to a private company that would build and install the wind turbines.

As for the proposal reported in The Providence Journal yesterday by Allco Renewable Energy Group Ltd. to erect up to 338 turbines, Dzykewicz said he hasn’t heard from the company and it hasn’t returned his calls. He described its effort as a fishing expedition and said, “I’m not sure how real this company is.”

 “You don’t sandbag the top energy official and the governor of a state where you want to do business,” Dzykewicz said.

But late yesterday, Allco managing director Jim Wavle returned a call The Journal placed to the company’s New York offices on Thursday. Wavle said the company’s proposal was serious and it plans to be in Rhode Island for the long haul.

The company didn’t immediately return calls because its lead person on the Rhode Island proposal, senior vice president Gordon D. Alter, has been out of the office, Wavle said. But Wavle said Alter should be available to discuss the proposal next week.

In September, Allco dropped off a brief outline of its plans and an $8,000 application fee at the offices of the Coastal Resources Management Council, the state agency that regulates coastal development.

Allco proposed erecting 235 to 338 wind turbines off Watch Hill, south of Block Island and south of Little Compton and Middletown.

It was asking CRMC for a “preliminary determination,” a listing of the information that CRMC would require in a formal application. CRMC, which has no regulations or plans governing wind farms, still has not responded. But the agency announced this week it would do a planning study of Rhode Island coastal waters so it can best determine where alternative energy devices should go.

Allco said it would assemble the turbines at Quonset Point. But David Preston, a spokesman for the state industrial park, said yesterday no one at Quonset has spoken to Allco. Quonset would be interested in hearing proposals though, he said.

Dzykewicz has been meeting with local “stakeholders” and utilizing consultants to determine where the best offshore sites would be for a wind farm. So far they have identified 10 offshore and one on land, in Little Compton.

Carcieri wants to develop wind farms similar in scope to the Cape Wind proposal in Nantucket Sound. Dzykewicz said the wind farms could supply 18 percent of Rhode Island’s energy needs.

But the Cape Wind project has been stalled by five years of legal and political battles over the local, state and federal permits it needs. Dzykewicz said a plan is evolving in Rhode Island that would avoid much of that trouble.

“Rather than select a site and ram it down people’s throats, we’re trying to keep everyone in the loop,” Dzykewicz said. He said he met with Block Island residents last week and found that even people who didn’t want to see a wind farm built nearby saw the need for it, particularly if Block Island could use the power to replace the power it generates at very high costs with diesel powered generators.

He said he is planning to have the state apply for a siting permit from CRMC and the Army Corps of Engineers. Once granted, he said such permits would be “incredibly profitable” to private companies that would bid for the right to build and operate the wind turbines.

“If we can eliminate the siting risks, that makes it a much safer ballgame for companies,” he said. “There is absolutely no benefit in having the process being adversarial. We should work with people and accommodate their legitimate needs.”

Wavle said Allco is fully aware of all the controversy surrounding Cape Wind and that is why it is not taking its proposal lightly. With climate change and growing “energy security issues,” he said more and more people agree it is time to utilize alternative energy sources such as wind.

 This story by Peter B. Lord ran in the Friday edition of the Providence Journal.

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