In for breakfast and out for dinner - that's how many natives of Rhode Island describe the terrifying storms the state is famous for. They're quick, powerful and destructive.
The tiny north eastern state is a common target of these fearsome storms - which can see winds whipping up to 130 miles an hour at their worst.
That’s why buying Rhode Island home insurance isn’t exactly cheap and Rhode Island auto insurance doesn’t often doesn’t cover flood damage.
But some clever wag realized that there might be a plus point to these terrific winds.
Environmentalists believe that Rhode Island's bona fide ‘hurricane season’ and weeks of driving wind every year make it ideally suited to reap the benefits of natural energy. That's why they’re currently in negotiation to build a $200 million, eight-turbine wind farm off Block Island specifically for that reason (that reason - and a healthy serving of government pork.)
Developers from New Jersey are keen to ride the wave of ‘alternative energy’ subsidies flowing from Washington and create a ‘wind farm’ that they can use to sell power to the National Grid – the state’s largest energy distributor.
But although I’m quite an advocate of ‘alternative energies’, I foresee an enormous obstacle to Rhode Island’s attempts to ‘go green.’ The National Grid normally buys kilowatt/hours of electricity from gas-fired plants in the region for $0.08. The brains behind Rhode Island’s wind farm are tentatively trying to strike an agreement for the National Grid to buy their electricity for $0.24 per kilowatt/hour.
Therein lies the problem – not just with the Rhode Island wind farm, but with many other ‘alternative energy’ sources. At the moment, they’re simply not competitive. Compounding the problem is the fact that wind farms take millions to erect (the cable linking the farm to the mainland hasn’t even been costed in yet – Rhode Islander’s are going to be expected to pony up $35 million for it) and wind farms don’t work so well when the wind doesn’t blow.
(Although that’s not going to be a problem this year. Experts at the National Weather Service have already predicted an 85% chance of an ‘above normal’ hurricane season and Rhode Island business insurance providers are being warned that a season like that could impact the state’s economy by as much as $3.1 million.)
For most Rhode Islanders, the issue is simply how much more the electricity will cost them – and how they might better spend the money providing for their own electricity needs. Toray Plastics, for example, is the biggest user of electricity in Rhode Island and they're not to happy with the Wind Farm scheme.
Shigeru Osada, Toray’s senior vice president for engineering and maintenance, estimated they'd be charged an additional $260,000 in energy costs in the first year if the Rhode Island Wind Farm’s contract with the National Grid were approved. “We’re not against renewables,” he argued, even outlining plans to install a solar-power system and a wind turbine at the facility in Quonset Point, “we’re just against extremely high costs.”
And ultimately, that’s the issue with so-called ‘green’ energy. Nobody has found a way to make it cost-effective – or, at least, competitive with traditional energy production. Given that more and more states are insisting that a percentage of their electricity comes from renewable sources (in Rhode Island, I believe the figure is 15% by 2020) higher energy costs are likely to be something we all ‘just have to live with’ in the pursuit of 'green' energy.