It appears that wind energy in Rhode Island may finally be moving forward. Last Thursday, the State Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to restart the hearing process for the Block Island wind farm development. That was possible because of new legislation, signed by Governor Carcieri that compels the PUC to take potential rate reductions from cost savings as well as economic and environmental benefits to the state into account while making their decision. EcoRI writes that the new law “basically forces the PUC to approve any new power purchase agreement from Deepwater Wind,” including the newly proposed rate of 23.57 cents per kilowatt-hour. The Conservation Law Foundation and Attorney General Patrick Lynch remain opposed to the project, because they believe the law favors one developer, violating language in Rhode Island’s Constitution that “all laws be made for the good of the whole.” However, the hearing process is resumed, and the PUC may issue a decision by the beginning of September.
As I mentioned earlier, the project includes an underwater cable connecting Block Island to the mainland. The proposed rate of 23.57 cents kw/h is higher than current rates on the mainland, but it represents a savings on Block Island, which relies on diesel generators which cost residents as much as 62 cents hw/h.
Until externalities are taken into account, fossil fuels will always appear cheaper than wind energy. In fact, once we truly understand the health and environmental impacts of fossil fuels, renewable energy will appear a bargain in retrospect. If you live downrange of a coal plant, the sulfur dioxide coming out of the smokestack affects your health. If you live around a shale deposit being targeted by natural gas developers, you may have polluted drinking water that can light on fire and damage your brain. If you live on the Earth, continued increases in Greenhouse Gas emissions may lead to a less and less hospitable planet. This project by Deepwater Wind is a pilot project in preparation for a utility-scale project in Federal waters off Rhode Island. However, we need more development. Rhode Islanders need to embrace wave energy, solar energy, and geothermal energy. These developments will not all be utility scale. The revolution of micro power is one that will help communities find ideal solutions for their energy needs.