Big hurdles hinder small state's wind ambitions

"The 'where' question is very important" if Carcieri wants to avoid Cape Wind-like delays, Auten said.

That question now falls to Dzykewicz, who said his office will probably try to get permits for several areas and see which are acceptable to regulators.

Permitting alone will take at least two years, Dzykewicz said. Once they're secured, Carcieri's office must then find a developer and backers to build and fund the project, a process expected to take several months.

At least two developers and several finance firms have said they are interested.

In September, New York-based Allco Renewable Energy Group, a wind power development firm, proposed building up to 338 wind turbines off Westerly, Block Island and Little Compton. The firm expects it could build the project by 2010 or 2011, said Jim Wavle, Allco's managing director.

"It can happen, without a doubt, but it's up to the state and the stakeholders to either embrace this or not," he said.

Developer Bluewater Wind has also signaled interest. But before going forward, it would have to show investors it has a long-term contract with a utility willing to buy its power, said Erich Stephens, who's heading the Rhode Island project.

"The problem in New England, in part, is that there's been no utility that's willing to step up to the plate," he said.

Some wind power advocates have pushed for lawmakers to force electricity distributors like National Grid, the state's dominant distributor, to buy renewable energy at a premium. A National Grid spokesman said the firm supports renewable energy, but it believes too much is uncertain to make promises now.

Carcieri's office attempted to solve the problem by asking state lawmakers to approve the Rhode Island Power Authority, a government entity authorized to buy renewable energy and sell it to customers.

Lawmakers did not approve the proposal because they had concerns about making the state a power dealer, said Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker William Murphy. He said they may revisit the idea in January.

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