NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – A subcommittee of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council has unanimously recommended approval of what could be the first offshore wind farm in the United States.
At a public meeting Thursday morning, the five members of the Ocean Special Area Management Plan Subcommittee voted in favor of the five-turbine wind farm proposed off Block Island by Providence-based developer Deepwater Wind.
Subcommittee chairwoman Anne Maxwell Livingston, who also heads the full council, said the 30-megawatt project could lead to broad development of offshore wind power and eventually help reduce the carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change.
“This seems like such a tiny project compared to the whole problem, but you have to start somewhere,” she said.
The CRMC is the lead state permitting agency for the $300-million project that also includes the installation of a submerged electric cable from Block Island to the mainland.
The recommendation, which includes 14 stipulations for the project, will now go to the full nine-member voting council, which will make the final decision on the application.
The favorable recommendation was not unexpected. Deepwater Wind sited the wind farm in an area near Block Island set aside for offshore renewable energy development by the OSAMP, a plan that has zoned the waters off Rhode Island for different uses. And a CRMC staff report released in January recommended approval of the proposal.
Although the subcommittee’s decision does not guarantee approval of the wind farm, it nevertheless represents an important development for a plan that has been six years in the making and is scheduled to begin construction in 2015.
“Today was a very big step forward for the wind farm,” Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, who was at the meeting, said after the vote. “The OSAMP subcommittee did a very thorough review of the project that we believe is an unprecedented level of scrutiny for a renewable energy project. We are anxious to go to the full CRMC.”
The recommendation will be submitted in writing to the full council as soon as its meeting on April 22. The council would accept the report at that meeting but not vote until a later date. Depending on other matters before the council, a vote could happen in mid-May, according to a spokeswoman for the state agency.
The decision comes amid other positive news for the Block Island wind farm. On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers approved an agreement that will see utility National Grid take over design and construction of the transmission cable from Block Island to Narragansett. Deepwater had always wanted the utility to install the line because of its experience in other underwater transmission projects.
And also this week, Grybowski took delivery in Denmark of the blades for the wind farm’s five turbines that will be built by French conglomerate Alstom. He returned from Europe on Wednesday in time for the subcommittee meeting.
The meeting at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay campus in Narragansett was a straightforward affair. There was no debate or disagreements among the members, and it was clear after a half-hour that at least a majority was in favor.
Member Paul Lemont said the proposal had been vetted thoroughly through a process that included the review by staff and council members as well as three public hearings.
Over that process it was clear that Deepwater had addressed the concerns that had been raised, said his colleague Donald Gomez. Those issues included minimizing risks to endangered right whales during construction and having the company continue to monitor impacts on birds after the turbines start spinning.
Member Tony Affigne spoke most passionately in support of the project, citing the threat posed by climate change and a need to invest in alternative sources of energy.
Offshore wind holds potential but it has to be done right, he said. Deepwater has worked hard to be a responsible developer, Affigne said.
“They have now set the bar very high for other developers up and down the East Coast,” he said.
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