Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Wind facilities and an overhaul of coastal regulations dominated the latest meeting of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on Sept. 11.
James Boyd, coastal policy analyst for CRMC, described the amendments as a “major overhaul” to the Red Book, with changes to aquaculture, municipal harbor regulations, and residential boating facilities rules. The update modifies definitions, policies, and regulations relating to coastal development, dredging, fossil fuels, flooding, pollution, renewable energy, runoff, salt marshes, sea-level rise, setbacks, and wetlands filling, among others.
In addition to coastal and wetland issues, CRMC pledges to expand public outreach, participation, and transparency.
Grover Fugate, the agency’s executive director, called the removal of findings from the Red Book “a major shift.” The removal of findings, which includes provisions for shoreline access, was mandated by the state Office of Regulatory Reform (ORR). The findings were moved to an appendix to the Red Book because ORR doesn’t consider them regulations.
“We were very concerned about that,” Fugate said, because the findings are influential in court cases. Fugate explained that ORR legal counsel assured him that the information will still have the same authority in legal actions as an appendix.
“That remains to be seen,” Fugate said. “I think we’ll find that out as we get in to our first court cases.”
CRMC staff is working with Deepwater Wind, fishermen, and habitat experts on planning for the South Fork Wind Farm, part of the nearly 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind power expected by 2023. One issue is the number of turbines to be built in the Rhode Island region of the federal offshore wind area located between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard. The South Fork project proposes 90 megawatts of electricity output from up to 15 turbines.
The five Block Island Wind Farm turbines generate 6 megawatts of power each. New turbines can produce up to 12 megawatts of electricty. Deepwater Wind can do as it wants with the excess electricity if the new larger turbines exceed the 90 megawatts of capacity, according to Fugate.
Deepwater Wind will own the entire 53-mile transmission cable connecting the wind facility to Long Island, N.Y. The cable will be buried about 6 feet below the seafloor. About 2 percent, or about a mile, will rest on the surface of the seafloor but will be covered by cement “mats.”
Fugate said Deepwater Wind has yet to state the type of foundation and turbine base, known as a jacket, that will be attached to each turbine. Deepwater Wind has until the day of construction to announce the design.
At the request of fishermen, Deepwater Wind agreed to build the South Fork facility from east to west with a mile between each tower. Fishermen worry that construction will threaten their catch.
“So there will be a lot equipment offshore and disruption to the fishery,” Fugate said.
Wind turbine cable routes
A group that includes fishermen, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Coast Guard is working on finding the best routes to lay cables from offshore wind facilities through Narragansett Bay to onshore connections in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
So far, the group is considering the Sakonnet River, which starts at Little Compton, and the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, which enters the bay between Narragansett and Jamestown. The East Passage, which is the main shipping route through Narragansett Bay, is off limits because of objections by the Department of Defense.
Several projects in the federal offshore wind area are likely to make landfall through Narragansett Bay. Deepwater Wind’s Revolution Wind project looks to connect at Quonset Point in North Kingstown or further north in Warwick.
The Bay State Wind project is expected to run through Narragansett Bay and connect to shore at Brayton Point in Somerset, Mass.
Fugate said it’s important to establish the routes as soon as possible due to “the potential spaghetti that is starting to appear offshore.” By running through Rhode Island waters, the cable routes give CRMC more oversight of the projects.
Bay State Wind is expected to present its Sakonnet River cable route at the group’s Sept. 27 meeting.
Deepwater Wind and National Grid meet with CRMC officials Sept. 24 to discuss permanent fixes to exposed undersea cables near Block Island and Narragansett. So far, Deepwater Wind is using temporary covers for cables exposed at Block Island.
At a recent joint meeting with CRMC’s Fishermen’s Advisory Board and Habitat Advisory Board, fishermen said the cables can harm fishing gear. They said the electrical voltage may cause sharks to bite the cables, while the voltage may slow fish and disrupt the food chain.
The fishermen also wanted assurances that Deepwater Wind wouldn’t abandon the wind farms’ cables, towers, and foundations after they exceed their use in 20 years or so.
Aileen Kenney, senior vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said the wind facilities would be removed after they no longer operate and that money is set aside to decommission the projects. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management denied Deepwater Wind’s request to abandon in place the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm.
CRMC is hiring
Because of the increase in offshore wind facilities, CRMC is hiring two ocean engineers, but finding qualified candidates may be a challenge. Instead of civil engineers, CRMC wants to hire the more highly trained ocean engineers, who are trained to work on offshore development. The salary for the new position is between $65,000 - $74,000.
“The nice thing about ocean engineers is they know things about waves and currents and tides,” Fugate said.
The problem is ocean engineers are in demand because of the flurry of wind-energy projects. And, Fugate said, CRMC’s salary and benefits can’t compete with engineering firms.
Students graduating with engineering degrees are being offered more money from private firms than the top engineers currently earn at CRMC.
“We’re not getting the same caliber of candidates back in as we have been losing,” Fugate said. “We just don't have the benefits anymore.”