A busy holiday season awaits Deepwater Wind as it prepares a response to a lawsuit challenging its proposed wind farm off Block Island. Legal briefs from the company are due Jan. 13. A decision by the R.I. Supreme Court is not expected until April or later. But it could all prove a mere precursor to challenges to come.
Justices ruling in favor of Deepwater Wind will by no means seal the deal for a wind farm, because permitting requirements remain. And the case is squeezing the time Deepwater has to line up approvals for the $200 million, eight-turbine farm that it wants operational by the end of 2012.
“It just means that we have very little space in which to maneuver, so it becomes much more time sensitive to everything we do,” said Deepwater Wind Chief Development Officer Paul Rich.
The Providence-based company has already missed a self-imposed September deadline to file an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Even though the farm would sit in state waters, the Army Corps would coordinate federal signoffs required under federal law. Deepwater now plans to file the application after the resolution of the court case, assuming the justices rule in its favor, Rich said. The court rarely overturns decisions by the R.I. Public Utilities Commission, which approved a contract to govern the sale of electricity from the farm to National Grid. But there is no precedent for the court to fall back on concerning some of the legal questions in this case.
The project itself has enjoyed strong support from outgoing Gov. Donald L. Carcieri and the General Assembly. And while such political will can be fleeting, wind farms off the state’s coast – whether built by Deepwater or someone else – are a virtual certainty, says University of Rhode Island political science professor Maureen Moakley.
“This is going to be an ongoing debate that will ultimately result in a proliferation of wind farms in the area,” she said.
But how long it may take for Deepwater, or another developer, to make it happen is anyone’s guess. If it gets a favorable court ruling, a filing by Deepwater with the Army Corps will trigger applications with a host of other federal agencies. They include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.