Deepwater Wind presented more than two and a half hours of testimony at the first public hearing for its permit application. The offshore wind developer’s experts detailed how the project takes careful measures to protect the coastal environment and its creatures. Environmental advocates gave supportive testimonies and urged the subcommittee to recommend the project for approval.
The subcommittee made one point clear at the beginning of the hearing. They were there to hear how the project would affect the coastal environment, not electricity rates. This is why a good chunk of the testimony detailed how the design and construction of the offshore wind farm take into consideration both producing clean energy and protecting wildlife.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski talked about bird studies and bat studies and the nearly extinct North Atlantic right whales.
About 400 of them remain and they migrate through Rhode Island waters during the spring. Grybowski said Deepwater Wind would protect those whales.
“For instance, for this project, for Block Island, I think the critical thing that we did is we agreed not to build the foundations, not to do any pile driving of the foundations in the water before May 1 of any year,” said Grybowski.
The National Wildlife Federation’s Catherine Bowes says the organization strongly supports Deepwater Wind’s project. She considers climate change the single greatest threat to animals.
“We know that we’ve got to reduce the pollution that’s causing climate change,” said Bowes.
Moving forward with Deepwater's project would also position Rhode Island to lead the country in offshore wind development, said president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Laurie White.
“We anticipate that this will lead to the supply chain being located in Rhode Island and as a result thousands of well-paying jobs being created,” said White. "With Rhode Island having the very highest unemployment rate in the country, it is in fact critical that we take advantage of leadership opportunities in new sectors.”
White said Block Island Wind Farm project itself would create 200 jobs for electricians, welders, divers, and many more.
Other supporting testimonies came from Sierra Club’s Rhode Island Chapter, Environment Rhode Island, and the fishing industry. Their representatives were among nine people who had a chance to testify after Deepwater Wind experts (nearly 60 people signed up to testify).
Only one person, a resident from Newport, opposed the project. He wondered what would happen to the wind turbines if they fail.
The subcommittee also pressed Deepwater Wind on whether the wind farm could sustain major storms.
Grybowski said the offshore wind industry in Northern Europe, where nearly 70 operating offshore farms have 2,000 turbines, has taught them a lot about building wind farms. He explained his point after the four hour-long hearing.
“We design a wind farm, to withstand the worst storm scenario,” said Grybowski. “So we take a look at the expected 100-year storm is, which has very high wave heights, very strong winds, actually stronger than Superstorm Sandy, and we design all the components to withstand that worst case storm.”
The final supporting testimony came from year-round Block Island resident Peter Baute, who’s ready to see the island’s diesel generating system go away. Baute made a point that got a laugh out of the crowd.
“Now I’ve heard about birds, bees—not bees, I guess [but] I have heard about them—whales, but we haven’t heard about people,”said Baute. “People are part of the environment. I still am.”
Baute, a retired physician, said a wind farm would go a long way in protecting people from carbon emissions.
The second public hearing will take place on Block Island in about three weeks. A third hearing will likely take place a few days later at URI.
The entire Coastal Resources Management Council will look at all of the testimony, public comments, and a staff report. Then it decide whether it will give Deepwater Wind the green light for what could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.
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