By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
PEACE DALE, R.I. — Both sides of a recent debate held at the Lily Pads Professional Center agreed on one thing: climate change is being caused by human activity. However, they disagreed whether industrial wind, specifically the proposed wind farms off the coast of Rhode Island, is a solution to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Deepwater Resistance, a grassroots effort dedicated to “preserving and protecting the environment from detrimental intrusion of offshore wind power into Rhode Island and its waters,” organized the April 15 discussion. Two members of the political action committee (PAC) debated the pros and cons of the proposed Block Island wind farm with two Sierra Club members — Abel Collins, program manager for the Rhode Island chapter, and Drew Grande, who runs the Beyond Coal Campaign for the Massachusetts chapter.
The Block Island Wind Farm’s five turbines would produce 30 megawatts of electricity. The wind farm would be located entirely in Rhode Island waters — some 3 miles southeast of Block Island — and generate about 125,000 megawatt-hours annually.
Deepwater Wind also is actively pursuing the development of a 200-turbine project in 285 square miles of federal waters off Rhode Island that would provide power to Rhode Island, Long Island and Massachusetts.
Deepwater Resistance member Gerry McCarthy said his organization is concerned about the way Deepwater Wind pushed the projects through state government.
“The PUC (Public Utilities Commission) said no because the project wasn’t economically viable, so Deepwater Wind then went through the back rooms of the Statehouse,” McCarthy said. “It creates in the public mind a sense of mistrust. They’re not being transparent.”
McCarthy’s group calls Deepwater Wind a “Wall Street financial creation that intends to make a fortune at our expense (just like 38 Studios),” using offshore wind energy financial incentives currently offered by state and federal government.
Collins agreed that the Block Island project came into being in a way that wasn’t as transparent as it should have been. “Deepwater Wind had the political clout to go around the PUC,” he said.
Collins, however, doesn’t believe that fact diminishes the importance of the project or the need for more renewable energy. He noted that Deepwater Wind is a local company (it is based in Providence), the project won’t require high-tension wires and the cable to the mainland will be buried at least 6 feet deep at the eastern edge of Scarborough Beach in Narragansett.
In fact, Collins recently issued a statement backing the project:
“The Rhode Island Sierra Club and all of our 24,000 members and supporters applaud the unanimous decision of the forward-thinking Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council subcommittee to approve the Deepwater Wind Block Island project and send it to the full committee. The subcommittee listened to exhaustive public comment from stakeholders and came to a similar conclusion of that of the Sierra Club. This clean energy project makes economic sense for Block Island residents and sets Rhode Island apart as a leader in taking action against climate disrupting pollution from dirty energy like coal.”
Electricity generated by the five turbines would displace energy from fossil-fuel burning generators on Block Island. This wind energy would reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants by the following amounts annually, according to Deepwater Wind: 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide; 20,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide; 3.4 tons of diesel particulates; and more than a pound of mercury.
But scenic pollution and the turbines’ impact on the Ocean State’s tourism industry have Deepwater Resistance members concerned.
“You’ll be able to see these 600-foot-high turbines from Salty Brine Beach,” McCarthy said. “These turbines are going to impact the scenic beauty of our ocean. They are going to hurt our tourism industry.”
Grande disagreed, saying the structures would in fact attract tourists, because they could be the country’s first offshore wind turbines.
Deepwater Resistance also is concerned about additional costs to ratepayers. The PAC’s chairman, Robert Shields, said the 24.5 cents per kilowatt-hour would provide Deepwater Wind with an unjustified profit. (Natural gas currently costs about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.)
He said a careful analysis is needed regarding wind energy. “We need a better understanding of offshore wind use,” Shields said.
Collins said that figure represented a reasonable charge. Grande noted that the true costs associated with fossil-fuel use have long been ignored.
“The Sierra Club supports offshore wind because continuing to do business as usual isn’t sustainable,” he said. “The true costs of fossil fuels — public health costs and environmental destruction — are not being paid by industry. Mountaintop-removal mining has covered thousands of miles of streams.”