RAY HENRY, March 11, 2008, BusinessWeek
Environmental regulators want to ban construction of offshore wind turbines and wave energy developments in Rhode Island for at least one year, arguing there are no state rules in place to govern projects like the 100 turbines Gov. Don Carcieri has proposed building off the coast.
The ban, being considered Tuesday night, would greatly hamper Carcieri’s already longshot plan to get 15 percent of the state’s electricity from wind power in three years. And environmentalists say with electricity prices rising and global warming worries growing, now is not the time to shy away from alternative energy projects.
“This is the time to be getting going,” said Cynthia Giles, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, which opposes the moratorium.
The Coastal Resources Management Council was scheduled to hear testimony and possibly vote on the moratorium during a meeting Tuesday evening.
The council’s staff wants the delay to create a zoning plan for the ocean, similar to how cities and towns designate land for businesses and homes, agency spokeswoman Laura Ricketson-Dwyer said. Finding an appropriate place for wind farms could minimize public opposition similar to protests that have delayed for years a major wind turbine project proposed for Nantucket Sound in neighboring Massachusetts.
“We want to make sure if it’s a public or private company that comes in and wants to put in wind farms, we can say, ‘OK, this is where they could go,'” Ricketson-Dwyer said.
But wind power advocates — including the governor — fear the moratorium could cause unnecessary delays.
Besides restricting big projects, the moratorium also could stop wind power developers from setting up offshore stations that collect wind information, Giles said. Developers generally need at least one year of data before deciding whether to build.
New Englanders pay some of the most expensive electricity bills in the nation, largely because the region depends heavily on expensive natural gas. Rhode Island lacks a single, major wind turbine but political leaders here have called for harnessing the wind that ripples along the coastline as a cheap and pollution-free energy source.
Lawmakers in the General Assembly unveiled bills this month to stimulate renewable energy development by forcing National Grid, the state’s largest energy company, to buy electricity from wind turbines and other renewable sources.
Carcieri also has proposed building enough offshore wind turbines to generate about 15 percent of the state’s electricity needs by 2011, a deadline his chief energy adviser has said is nearly impossible to meet. The moratorium would apply to state waters up to three miles off the coast, a zone that includes about three-quarters of the potential wind farm sites identified by Carcieri’s administration.
Carcieri plans to send his top energy adviser to argue against the moratorium.
“The signal we want to send is that we are moving full speed ahead on developing these renewable energy projects,” Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said. “A moratorium sends a conflicting message.”