Providence – Deepwater Wind (DWW) on Wednesday surmounted the latest hurdle in its quest to bring its Block Island Wind Farm energy transmission cable to the mainland.
Despite an upsurge in opposition to the project, after several hours testimony and commentary concerning DWW’s alternative landing site at Scarborough State Beach, the State Properties Committee in a 2-0 vote with one abstention, granted the offshore wind corporation easements for passage and construction at two state-owned property sites.
“It’s a good day,” said Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind.
Committee goes out of the box
Taking public concern and the lengthy and sometimes tumultuous regulatory process under consideration, the committee agreed to hear public comment for and against the proposed easements after formal presentations by state agencies and questioning by committee members.
“Unlike most state property meetings, we really don’t take public comment. For this one I am,” said Ronald Renaud, Chair. “I know this is a passionate issue for some, probably all, pro or con.”
Representatives for the Rhode Island Departments of Transportation (RIDOT) and Environmental Management (DEM) presented Easement and Assumption Agreements to the committee for consideration on one RIDOT parcel located at Dillon’s corner and two DEM parcels located on the Scarborough State Beach Complex, all within the Town of Narragansett.
Two state property sites designated for use by DWW
The Dillon’s Corner property, currently used by RIDOT as a salt and storage facility, resides at the convergence of Routes 108 and 1. The easement granted to Deepwater Wind Block Island Transmission, LLC, as shown in documents filed with State Properties, allowed for a one-year temporary construction easement for resurrection of an electrical substation and perpetual use thereafter. Collateral to the easements is the assignment and assumption of rights in the easement to Narragansett Electric Company (NEC), the entity responsible for erecting and maintaining the substation.
Presented by Paul Carcieri, Chief Real Estate Specialist at RIDOT, the combined Dillon’s Corner easements generate income to the state in amount of $205,000.
Easements at the Scarborough Beach Complex allow for the installation and operation of subterranean electric cable on two separate parcels. The mainland landing site for the Block Island transmission has the cable scheduled to come ashore north of the beach operation in an area occupied by a storm water drainage system.
“This landfall location is adjacent to a storm water discharge area that runs north of our designated beach property at Scarborough and into public open space at Black Point Beach,” said Larry Mouradjian, Assistant Director at DEM.
According to Mouradjian, historical studies of the Scarborough beachfront from 1939 to 2004, accredited to Dr. Jon Boothroyd of the University of Rhode Island’s College of Environment and Life Sciences, showed that the beachfront was not particularly susceptible to radical changes in its profile over that period of time.
The subterranean cable buried in a location that already holds a utility easement, will occupy a PVC conduit and insulators buried a minimum of 10 ft. under the sand at landing.
“We should not see or even know that this utility is there,” said Mouradjian, emphasizing that the proposed (utility) easements were standard in nature. “We are accustomed to utility easements in state parks. We have many throughout the system.”
Scarborough Beach Complex garners a facelift
In consideration for the easements, DEM will receive compensation from Narragansett Electric Company and Deepwater Wind.
Legal counsel for DEM provided the breakdown of monetary compensation to be paid for the Scarborough Beach Complex easements.
The easement appraisal for both the temporary and permanent easements vetted the state an initial cash payment in amount of $169,750 as reported by Mary Kay, DEM legal counsel. The second payment paid by Narragansett Electric Company upon assumption is slated for renovations, landscape and paving improvements to the Scarborough Beach facility in amount of $350,000.
“The Scarborough Beach facility has not had significant improvements done since early 1980’s when there was a big construction project on the pavilion and parking lot, ” said Kay. “This will be a much needed improvement to the entire beach facility which is the most highest use beach facility in the State of Rhode Island.”
DEM also found “no significant environmental or public use concerns” with the easement on the second lot at Scarborough, the auxiliary parking lot that fronts Ocean Road with access on Burnside Avenue. Upon completion of work by Narragansett Electric Company, the parking lot will see addition of one manhole cover above ground.
The final payment with a $1 million bottom line, guaranteed by Deepwater Wind will be made in ten equal annual installments of $100,000 for improvements to state parks and recreation areas.
“For the public benefit, we will receive the generosity of a renovation to Scarborough Beach and also a commitment to assist in hosting improvements to our state park facilities in the future, “said Mouradjian. “We feel that this is a reasonable request and find no reason to oppose it on the grounds of operation.”
AG’s office voices concern over the project
After voicing several concerns on behalf of the State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Richard B. Woolley abstained from the vote.
Setting forth the AG’s support for wind energy, Woolley described concerns particular to the Deepwater Wind Demonstration Project.
“He (Kilmartin) feels that these two easements should not be considered piece-meal and have to be considered in context of the entire project,” said Woolley.
Questioning RIDOT representatives, Woolley put forth an argument that Deepwater Wind, being a for-profit corporation should pay some form of additional compensation to the State of Rhode Island for its utility permit requests to place utility cables under Scarborough and State highways.
In a back and forth exchange, Wooley and RIDOT representatives debated whether there were differences between DWW’s utility permit requests, (applications not yet submitted) and any other standard utility permit request.
“In the context of the big picture of this thing,” said Woolley. “If and when Narragansett Electric or Deepwater comes to DOT and says ‘we want to have utility permit access to put these transmission cables from Scarborough under Ocean Road, up Burnside Avenue and then from Burnside Avenue down 108 to the switching station,’ I think that the State Properties Committee should have their hand in it.”
“In just this particular matter or in all matters,” asked Annette Jacques, RIDOT legal counsel.
Woolley emphasized his belief that the Deepwater Wind project and utility permit request were somehow different from other similar requests from for-profit entities.
“This is a unique circumstance,” said Woolley. “This is not a regular public utility. This is a special project for a for-profit entity. Even if it’s shifted over to Narragansett Electric, it runs directly to the Deepwater Wind Project, not anybody else.”
“We do have very similar permits for other for-profit entities as well, though” said Jacques. “Just to be clear, we are moving forward on a basis that the department has directed as to how the State Properties Committee wants to interpret that enabling legislation. If it’s in this particular project moving forward or if it’s in projects that affect the highways, [not] the freeways that might be a conversation – that’s certainly not before the committee today.”
“Just because it’s been a matter of policy by a department for a period of time, doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate,” said Woolley.
Renaud called for a conversation between the Directors for all departments involved.
“I think what we can do with this is – Director Lewis, Director Coit, Director Licht, the Attorney General can make that determination,” said Renaud. “We can bring this concern to them and have that for discussion other than today.”
General Treasurer, Raimondo supports renewable energy
Christopher Feisthamel, represented the General Treasurer’s office in an ex-officio capacity.
“I want to go on the record and say that the General Treasurer wholly supports renewable energy. I appreciate and applaud the efforts of the chairman to create a process that’s truly transparent,” said Feisthamel.
Representing the Department of Administration, Robert Griffith narrowed the scope of the vote to the easements before the committee in opposition to several suggestions that the big picture or project in its entirety be considered. A former member of the Energy Facility Siting Board, Griffith spoke to the difficulties involved in each process.
“The easement is not something that the broader issue is going to turn on. The easement is a starting point for this to travel through the CRMC process and I’m quite certain through the Energy Facilities Siting board process,” said Griffith. “The specific point for landfall of the cable is the beginning point for both of those processes. [I] myself am compelled to look at this on the narrow point of the easements.”
Griffith also provided insight into the state’s movement towards renewable energy streams.
“However, it has been the policy of the state since 2004 to move towards a 16 percent renewable energy reliance,” said Griffith.
Griffith and Renaud voted in the affirmative, with Woolley abstaining.
Related links and articles
Mannix Calls for Hiatus on Wind Talks (March 29, 2013/Narragansett Times SRI Newspaper Group) Note: This article was altered to include the information for this link, as it has been previously blocked by the publisher and the author’s byline was removed from the online printing of the article.