The Rhode Island Renewable Energy Coordinating Board recently expressed its commitment to wind energy despite recent setbacks for wind projects across the state.
Marion Gold, a board director and recently hired administrator for the Office of Energy Resources, reaffirmed her support for renewable energy projects at the committee’s Aug. 29 meeting. She touted the new state and federal agency database rienergy.org, which she helped create during her previous job at the University of Rhode Island, to serve as a “global knowledge center” for wind, solar, hydropower and energy-efficiency programs.
Several new guidelines and services for wind turbines are being finalized just as wind energy is facing growing opposition across the state. Jamestown and Westerly ceased wind turbine projects after spending years and tens of thousands of dollars on proposals that indicated economic viability.
Proponents of the projects say the proposals were defeated by the implosion of the state Economic Development Corporation (EDC) at the hands of the 38 Studios debacle. The EDC, through its renewable energy fund, spent $140,000 on the Jamestown turbine proposal.
The shutdown of the Portsmouth High School turbine, which faces estimated repair costs of at least $400,000, also factored into the termination of the Jamestown project, according to Jamestown Town Council Vice President Robert Bowen. The Town Council, he said, was “getting a lot of flack that this is too risky for the town.”
Not all of the opposition has been aimed at municipal wind projects, however. The five-turbine, 30-megawatt Deepwater Wind project off Block Island has been hit with a recent complaint from longtime wind energy antagonist Benjamin Riggs Jr. The Newport resident, a former manufacturing executive, said the deal between Deepwater and National Grid is a violation of the Commerce Clause, which is part of the Constitution. Riggs also opposes the project over higher costs for electricity users.
“When people realize that this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, they begin to ask, ‘Do (we) really want this in our backyard and in our oceans?'” Riggs said.
Riggs also is planning to join forces with an unnamed group in Bristol to challenge the East Bay Energy Consortium, a committee of nine cities and towns aiming to collectively reduce municipal energy costs. Its current project, a proposed 5- to 10-turbine wind farm in Tiverton, drew opposition from small but vocal groups, such as Ocean State Tea Party in Action, which is opposed to publicly funded wind turbines.
Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch Inc., an anti-wind energy group, also sees a strong political backlash motivating wind opponents. “A lot of it is driven by a hatred for Obama. (Wind energy) is suddenly seen as an Obama program. It’s sort of a Tea Party rebellion against (his) policies.”
Rosenbloom said Wind Watch avoids political alliances and receives no financial support from the fossil fuel industry or its wealthy advocates. Wind Watch, he said, acts as an informational resource for 500 wind opposition groups in the U.S., four in Rhode Island.