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Wind farm gains CRMC approval

PROVIDENCE – In a vote that some members called historic, the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) unanimously approved Deepwater Wind’s application for its Block Island Wind Farm off the southeast coast of Block Island. The company now has all requisite state permits for construction and is awaiting two federal permits from the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The wind farm is scheduled to be operational in 2016.

The decision could be appealed, according to CRMC spokeswoman Laura Dwyer, but the appellant must demonstrate it has legal standing.

The CMRC vote keeps the project on track to be the first offshore wind farm in the United States, the company’s attorney Robin Main said at Tuesday’s hearing.

CRMC members highlighted the historic importance of the vote, as it ensures Rhode Island’s place as a leader in offshore wind technology. It also proves the usefulness of the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OSAMP), which zoned parts of the ocean off the state’s coast for a variety of uses. The area proposed for the Block Island Wind Farm, off the southeastern coast of Block Island, was designated for wind development in the plan.

“I’m so proud of the people that had a part in this effort,” CRMC Vice Chairman Paul Lemont said. “What we came out with was a project that…will be a star in the crown of Rhode Island.”

Member Tony Affigne called the vote and ensuing project “one of the finest moments in Rhode Island history.”

After an approximately half-hour meeting, during which the members stated their support for the project and recognized the CRMC staff’s work to create the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OSAMP), they took the vote.

“It was an extremely big step for the project. It’s located in state waters so the state permitting process has always been the most important part,” said Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski in an interview. “The federal agencies have been waiting to see how the state would handle the permits, so this was always the most critical step in our perspective.”

The company should learn the status of its federal permit applications within “several weeks,” he said.

Last week, the company announced the state Department of Environmental Management had issued the project two permits, one deeming the five turbine, demonstration-scale wind farm in compliance with water quality regulations and the federal Clean Water Act for the construction of the wind farm and the transmission line connecting it to the mainland at Scarborough State Beach; and a second, a freshwater wetland permit for certain onshore construction activities, according to the release.

The DEM permits include conditions, such as “provisions to protect important marine species, ensure compliance with environmental and safety standards, and to require appropriate installation methods for the buried submarine cable,” according to the release.

In 2013, Deepwater Wind and the Conservation Law Foundation reached an agreement to restrict foundation construction activities during the month of April to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale and other marine mammals, an agreement reflected in the DEM stipulations.

The company has signed contracts with two European companies for construction of the turbines and the installation vessel. Construction also will create 200 temporary jobs, mostly for steel fabrication, Grybowski said. He declined to estimate how many of those jobs will be in Rhode Island, and if they would be based in Quonset, where the company leases space, or elsewhere.

Once Deepwater Wind establishes a team to contract out more of the project’s work, more information about local job prospects will be released, Grybowski said.

Earlier this year, Deepwater Wind selected Alstom, a French company, as its Block Island Wind Farm turbine supplier and long-term maintenance and service provider. This month, Deepwater Wind received delivery of 15 wind turbine blades from the company, it said in a release.

In addition to the Block Island Wind Farm, which will meet Block Island’s needs, with excess power being transmitted to the mainland, Deepwater Wind also won a federal auction to build a 200-turbine wind farm in waters 17 miles south of Rhode Island, between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard. The farm, called Deepwater One, will produce enough energy to power approximately 350,000 homes.

Last week, Deepwater Wind announced a third project – the country’s first West Coast offshore wind farm off the Oregon coast. Like the Block Island Wind Farm, it will be a 30-megawatt project. Unlike the project off Block Island, which includes fixed foundations drilled into the ocean floor, this new endeavor will use a floating foundation – the world’s first project to use this technology, according to a company press release.

Asked if any other projects are in the works, Grybowski said, “Not specifically. We are building a portfolio of projects and will continue to evaluate opportunities for new projects and expect in the coming months and years to add to that portfolio.”

Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34) of Peace Dale, Wakefield and Narragansett, whose district includes the Port of Galilee, has introduced a bill that would require CRMC to impose a fee on all renewable energy projects costing $5 million or more that lease submerged marine lands. The annual fee would be no more than .075 percent of the project’s total cost and would be used to designate a nonprofit entity to advocate for commercial and recreational fishermen during hearings on renewable energy proposals and fisheries management.

“The state has always been fiercely protective of the right of its citizens to access those waters for recreation and commercial purposes, going right back to the colonial charter in 1663,” Tanzi said in a statement. “If we’re going to cede any part of the water to a private interest, our citizens – particularly the fishing industry that has long relied on water access – deserves a voice and some protection. This will free up members of the fishing industry from having to attend the scores of regulatory hearings that affect them every year, meaning they can spend more time earning a living on the water and rest assured their interests are well-represented.”

Tanzi said renewable energy and the fishing industry advocates are both in support of the bill. The bill was heard May 7 in the House Finance Committee and was held for further study.