2007-11-29 / Front Page

Wind power a green issue for island, state

By Michaela Kennedy

Shipping channels, navigational aids and regattas were some of the concerns addressed at the Rhode Island Offshore Wind Stakeholders meeting at the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus last month.

A diverse group, including Coast Guard officials, wind company representatives and fishermen, attended the stakeholder information session, wind energy committee member William Smith reported at the committee meeting on Nov. 20. Smith said that construction of state wind turbine farms was constrained by shipping channels and water depth. A couple of spots south of Block Island were pegged as possible venues for the renewable energy generators. "Smaller vessels can go underneath them with no problem," Smith noted in reference to a potential field of turbines offshore.

In a discussion about a call for bids for a wind energy feasibility study on the island, committee member Abigail Anthony said she met with Town Planner Lisa Bryer about the needs and wants to list in a request for qualifications. Anthony noted that she, together with volunteer Joseph Logan, wrote an introduction, and added that the town planner would draft a body for the request. She expressed confidence that the completed draft would be ready for review by the next committee meeting.

The committee spent the rest of the evening brainstorming on potential wind generator sites, and listing requirements for feasible choices. Panel members noted sites that scored high on a wind graph, as well as sites that provided easy access for transport. Some of the suggestions discussed were farms, parks and other town-owned property.

Committee member William "Bucky" Brennan crafted a spreadsheet that showed high wind velocity spots, and sites that could be considered for single- or multiple turbine installation. He added statistics that reported electricity costs at public buildings and treatment plants.

The electric bill for the sewer treatment plant neared the top of the list of high cost, averaging anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per month. The plant was also marked as the biggest user per month of electricity island-wide in the spring. Brennan noted that, with a significant rise in electricity costs in the last five years, the town was paying 15.7 cents for KW hours at the treatment plant. "When you have pumps going on and off, the price is jacked up," Brennan explained.

The town's average electric bill was $60,000 per month, according to the spreadsheet.

Committee Chairman Don Wineberg reminded the panel that sites proposed in the discussion were only preliminary ideas. "The goal of this exercise is to look at what sites we would ask a consultant to look at," Wineberg said.

The maps also showed limitations of sites, such as locations that would require moving produced energy across a road. Committee members agreed that the law prohibiting energy to be moved across public roadways was a serious consideration. "One of the biggest problems is not being able to cross roads," Anthony said.

Over a dozen areas on the island were thrown into the discussion about potential spots for one wind turbine or multiple turbines. Brennan suggested that one turbine might solve most of the energy challenges on the island, if net metering was considered. Net metering, a state policy for consumers, allows a limited amount of produced energy to be distributed. Committee member Bob Bowen explained that, under the state guidelines of net metering, a private owner can sell up to one megawatt of power. Net-metered renewable energy systems that are municipally owned may distribute up to 1.65 MW.

A few of the areas that scored high on the committee's brainstorming list were Taylor Point, Fort Wetherill and Fort Getty.

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