PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Deepwater Wind’s plan to build what could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm received its most important permit on Tuesday when the state Coastal Resources Management Council voted unanimously in favor of the company’s five-turbine project off Block Island.
The decision is critical to Deepwater because the CRMC is the lead state permitting agency for the proposed $300-million project that also includes the installation of an underwater electric cable between Block Island and the mainland. It follows the award last week by the state Department of Environmental Management of permits for dredging and other construction work.
Deepwater must still wait for approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead federal permitting authority, and other agencies, but Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of the Providence-based company, said the CRMC vote was the key step forward for the demonstration project that could begin construction as soon as next year. He described the vote as “momentous.”
“This has always been the critical decision point in the permitting process,” said Grybowski. “I’m very optimistic we’ll see federal action in the coming weeks.”
The favorable vote had been expected. Deepwater sited the wind farm in an area of state waters southeast of Block Island set aside for offshore renewable energy development by Rhode Island’s ocean zoning plan.
In January, CRMC executive director Grover Fugate and other staff members recommended the project be approved as long as Deepwater complied with a host of stipulations, none of which were considered unreasonable by the developer.
Last month, following public hearings on Block Island and in Narragansett – where the cable would make landfall – a council subcommittee unanimously voted to support the proposal. That five-member subcommittee is headed by Anne Maxwell Livingston, who also chairs the full nine-member voting council.
The meeting on Tuesday was brief. Livingston and several of the six other members present spoke in support of the project specifically and renewable energy in general. A half-hour after convening, they voted.
“This in fact will be one of the finest moments in Rhode Island history,” council member Tony Affigne said. “We have done something tangible and real to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
About 30 people were in the audience, including supporters from the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation. Deepwater Resistance, the Narragansett group that opposes the project, reportedly boycotted the meeting.
The approval comes with 14 stipulations that Deepwater has agreed to adopt. They include enforcing restrictions on all construction to minimize disturbances to endangered North Atlantic right whales and extending studies of impacts on birds and bats after the wind farm goes into operation.
Progress for the Block Island project comes as Deepwater is expanding its portfolio. The company had always planned to develop a much larger project off Rhode Island if the smaller project were a success. The company won an auction last summer to lease a swath of federal waters in Rhode Island Sound for a wind farm of up to 200 turbines. It has also started preliminary work on a proposal off the New Jersey coast.
And just last week, Deepwater announced that it was partnering in a project off Oregon that is aiming to be the first offshore wind farm on the West Coast.
Grybowski said the immediate focus, however, is on the Block Island project and planning for the installation of five six-megawatt turbines made by French conglomerate Alstom.
“This project is far and away our company’s number-one priority,” he said. “This is going to be the first in the U.S.”