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Gov. Carcieri '65 plans offshore wind farm

Rhode Islanders could be using energy from an offshore wind farm as early as 2012, according to a statement from Governor Donald Carcieri '65.

The governor's office announced Jan. 8 that it has selected the company Deepwater Wind to develop two offshore wind projects for the state. Those projects, it said, would put the state significantly closer to Carcieri's goal of getting 20 percent of Rhode Island's energy from renewable sources.

The wind farm will be developed in two phases, according to Chris Wissemann '83, the company's chief operating officer. Construction on the first phase, a 20-megawatt project off Block Island, will begin in 2010 and be completed in June 2012. The farm will produce enough power to fully power Block Island and also send some power to the mainland.

The second phase, a 400-megawatt project in federal waters, could be completed by 2013, Wissemann said. When completed, the project will provide 15 percent of Rhode Island's energy, he said.

According to Amy Kempe, a spokesperson for Carcieri's office, the plans could make Rhode Island the first state to develop an offshore wind farm. (Other states, including New Jersey and Delaware, have similar projects in the works.) Rhode Island doesn't have oil or coal resources like some other states, but "what we do have is wind," she said, "and a lot of it."

The plan, which includes a stipulation that Deepwater Wind will locate its northeastern manufacturing headquarters in Quonset, could make Rhode Island "a center for the renewable energy industry," Kempe said.

Other proposed coastal wind farms have met with resistance. The Cape Wind project, which would be located in Nantucket Sound, has encountered opposition from residents of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket over the past decade. The opponents, who include Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., argue that the project will have negative environmental and aesthetic consequences for the sound.

Wissemann said Deepwater Wind's business plan "is direct counterpoint to the Cape Wind project." Rather than attempt to convince coast-dwellers to accept the view of wind turbines, he said, the company focused on developing a "technology solution, figuring out how to put turbines into deeper water," allowing wind farms to be constructed farther offshore.

To that end, Deepwater Wind has licensed a "jacket" technology, which Wissemann describes as "a four-legged barstool" similar to those used in the oil and gas industries, from a Norwegian company.

To a person standing on the coast, wind turbines 15 miles away appear "the size of a quarter of your thumbnail," Wissemann said. The turbines for the 400-megawatt Rhode Island project would be located 20 miles offshore. "The vast majority of days, you won't see them at all," Wissemann said.

The turbines for the Block Island project, which are located three miles offshore, would be significantly more visible. But Wissemann said he had not encountered opposition like Cape Wind faced.

Kempe said the smaller initial project would help demonstrate that offshore wind farms are "viable" on the East Coast. It can also begin more quickly than the larger project because the turbines will be in state waters and thus subject to less federal regulation, she said.

Though Congress asked the Department of the Interior to establish rules for offshore wind farms in 2005, it has not yet done so. "The last administration did not prioritize alternative energy," Wissemann said. He praised Rhode Island for developing its own guidelines for offshore wind farms. "It's really right at the cutting edge," he said.

The Special Area Management Plan - a collaboration between the Coastal Resources Management Council, which Kempe called a "quasi-public agency," and the University of Rhode Island - will perform an "independent, comprehensive analysis" to help determine the best location for the wind farm. The studies will include analysis of bird and whale migration patterns, according to Wissemann, who said his company was looking for "the most benign possible location that also has wind."

Though wind power remains somewhat more expensive than energy from fossil fuels, "our goal is to have the cost be financially insignificant" for the average consumer, Wissemann said. But as oil becomes more scarce, he said, wind energy will become the most economical option.

"We can build the infrastructure the U.S. needs to be self-sufficient," he said. "It's really within our means to achieve in the next 15 to 20 years. All it takes is

leadership."




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