If you’ve followed the debates about the Deepwater Wind projects off Block Island and in RI Sound for the past several years with an open mind, you can’t help but to be confused at this point, just as Deepwater Wind has finally passed a big milestone: Winning the rights from the federal government through an auction bid process to develop offshore wind power.
Deepwater wants to construct a smaller pilot project off Block Island to help lower the high electric rates that Islanders have had to pay for decades and supply extra power into the land-based grid that National Grid owns. The second and larger project would see wind turbines in RI Sound, farther off our coast. Amidst all the controversies surrounding this project, the latest is the refusal of the town of Narragansett to allow the cable line to be placed under its beachfront or anywhere in town. Now Deepwater has to find another, more costly entry and cross-through point for its cable. Stay tuned on that one.
With the inception of the project going back to Governor Carcieri’s first administration, the long and slow process has provided ample time for a cottage industry of sorts to develop here in the Ocean State, much like the one in the Bay State over its offshore wind project, to allow armed camps of committed supporters and opponents to drag the project through – if not the water, certainly the mud – over the critical issue of whether it will ultimately be good or bad for Rhode Island.
Nearly every aspect of the project and what it entails is being argued by everyone from harbormasters and fishermen, to politicians, environmentalists and climate change advocates, pro and con. Even the environmentalists in the Sierra Club are divided over it. What will it do for electric rates – take them artificially higher for all of us ratepayers who will be subsidizing a boondoggle, or produce lower rates once both projects are operational? Take your pick; it’s being argued both ways. What will it do to the environment? What impact will it have on the marine life and sea birds? How might it affect human health?
Arguments fly back and forth, even on issues that should be settled by now, based on considerable experience with wind farms elsewhere in the U.S., like in Texas and California, and in Europe. Look at the European countries that have developed their wind power industry, both offshore and land-based. They would appear to be accepted by the public and not still be a bone of contention. Not so fast. We’ve been treated to the prospect of toppling towers and disintegrating blades and dead birds and destroyed ocean bottoms. And then there’s the sound they make, damaging hearing and even driving people mad who happen to live near them. True or false?
One doesn’t know what to believe, except for the fact that the federal government under this administration is adamant about reducing our reliance on fossil fuel use and is encouraging the development of renewable forms of energy. This push is being second-guessed even more now that natural gas – a fossil fuel but cleaner and more efficient than coal – is coming online in abundance. Plus there is a realization that for some time to come, we will have no choice but to continue to use fossil fuels along with renewable forms of energy because renewables by themselves are insufficient in supplanting the continuing need for carbon energy, supplies of which we don’t seem to be running out of anytime soon.