The five 6-megawatt wind turbine Block Island Wind Farm located 3 miles off of Block Island is shown in this 2016 photo. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
The state’s coastal regulator is backing one allegation from a staff engineer over the status of an application for an offshore wind development while contesting the validity of another accusation made against the company.
Meanwhile, the developer accused of lying continues to fend off the allegations, in turn pointing the finger as its accuser for inaccuracies.
All this to say, the murky waters around the troubled SouthCoast Wind Farm project have become even murkier, leaving state energy officials with the task of sorting fact from fiction in their review of the project.
The 500-turbine wind farm, planned off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, ran into trouble last month after SouthCoast Wind Energy LLC confirmed it wants to renege on its power contracts with Massachusetts utility companies in the hopes of getting a better deal. This, in turn, prompted questions from the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board over whether to continue their own review of the project as it pertains to plans to run an underwater transmission line from the wind farm up the Sakonnet River, over Portsmouth and out Mount Hope Bay to reach land in Somerset’s Brayton Point.
A new hurdle arose after an ocean engineer with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council sent an email to the Energy Facility Board’s coordinator alleging that SouthCoast Wind Energy LLC lied about the progress achieved on its application to the CRMC. The 2,100-word email, sent on June 29 and made public on July 3, has devolved into a “he said, she said” debate between the developer, the engineer, and the state agencies involved.
At least one point that all sides seem to agree on: The developer’s application to the CRMC for state assent in federal waters is not complete.
Francis Slingsby, SouthCoast CEO, said in written testimony to the energy board that the project was “moving forward with other important Rhode Island state permit applications,” including the assent. But after David Ciochetto, the CRMC engineer behind the email, alleged that the application was incomplete and no longer under review by the coastal agency, SouthCoast reframed its messaging.
Ciochetto also accused the developer of lying about meetings with a panel of fishing industry representatives, and of being generally uncooperative and uncommunicative with the CRMC.
In a July 7 statement to the energy board, Christian Capizzo, an attorney representing the developer, disputed Ciochetto’s claim that the application was no longer under review. However, Capizzo acknowledged the application had not been officially accepted, instead clarifying that Slingby’s statements referred to a series of “pre-application discussions,” including five meetings and “numerous calls and emails.”
Jeffrey Willis, executive director for the CRMC, corroborated this in a separate written statement on July 7, and made public on Monday. Willis said that “minimum application review material requirements such as upland site control have not been provided, and the application has not been officially accepted.” However, Willis also described “near constant communication” between the developer and agency staff, countering what Ciochetto alleged in his email as a lack of communication and cooperation by the developer.
Willis in his statement noted that Ciochetto’s email, though sent from his CRMC email address, was “not authorized” by the agency. Willis also affirmed Capizzo’s truthfulness, writing “his character, honesty and integrity has never been in question.”
Did developer really meet with fishing industry reps?
Still unresolved is another allegation made by Ciochetto related to the developer’s meetings with a panel of fishing industry representatives.
Ciochetto said the developer never met with or sought expertise from the Fishermen’s Advisory Board, despite repeated requests by the agency. Capizzo in his statement countered by naming specific dates of meetings between the developer and the fishermen’s board, as well as “active negotiations” with the fishermen’s attorney, Marisa Desautel.
Desaute said last week that her office had never met with the developer. In a written statement Monday afternoon, Desautel again said SouthCoast’s claims of a specific meeting date were “misplaced,” and that “no substantive meetings have been held between the FAB and this developer.”
Desautel also wrote that her office had “worked diligently” since January to get a retainer agreement from the developer but “to no avail.”
Willis’ response did not refer to disputed facts over the fishermen’s board at all. Ciochetto could not be reached for comment.
The Energy Facility Siting Board will discuss, and possibly vote upon, whether to continue its review of the transmission line plan, during a public meeting at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 13. Its decision rests not on the allegations, but on whether the project is still commercially viable.
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