PROVIDENCE – Much was made of the Raimondo administration’s selection in 2018 of a proposal for a massive offshore wind farm off the Rhode Island coast that would power as much as a quarter of the state’s electric load.
The project, known as Revolution Wind, cleared a key hurdle a year later when state regulators approved a contract for the wind farm to sell power to National Grid, Rhode Island’s dominant electric utility. And developers Orsted and Eversource Energy would get another boost when Connecticut also agreed to buy power from the wind farm, a move that nearly doubled the size of the project to 704 megawatts.
But since those very big and very public milestones, things have been relatively quiet for a project that could cost more than $2 billion to build.
The paucity of action is largely due to a hold-up in the federal permitting process for offshore wind projects amid concerns raised by commercial fishermen that arrays of towering turbines off the southern New England coast would interfere with fishing activities.
But a Biden presidency is expected to boost renewables overall, and a decision could come in a matter of weeks for the benchmark Vineyard Wind project, the first offshore wind farm to go before the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. A favorable ruling on the proposal could break the logjam for Revolution Wind and other projects.
Orsted and Eversource are gearing up for a series of steps forward in 2021 that notably includes an expectation that BOEM will put their application – known as a Construction and Operations Plan – out for public comment.
The developments, detailed in a virtual open house the companies held on Wednesday, will also include filings to Rhode Island state agencies for a transmission cable that would connect the project’s wind turbines – as many as 100 mounted on towers in an area between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard – to the onshore electric grid.
The plan is to run the cable north under the Rhode Island Sound seafloor, through the west passage of Narragansett Bay and on to the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown. The cable would snake its way either through a cut in an existing seawall or in a hole drilled underneath it and then continue underground about a mile to a National Grid substation located in the state-owned business park.
The project partners expect to submit the cable documents to the state Energy Facility Siting Board, the Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council this winter.
The cable route and landfall location were largely dictated by the proximity of an electrical substation that has capacity to handle the power from the wind farm, according to Ken Bowes, vice president of offshore wind siting and permitting at Eversource. Other sites under consideration included Brayton Point, where a coal-burning power plant was recently demolished.
Bowes said he expects a rigorous but fair process before the Rhode Island permitting agencies.
“They want to see this project go forward and they see the value of it,” he said in a conference call after the public forum.
At the meeting, Kellen Ingalls, project development director for Orsted, said the Revolution project would power 350,000 homes and displace at least one million metric tons of carbon pollution – the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road. It comes as Rhode Island, home to the only offshore wind farm in the nation, aims to increase its use not only of offshore wind energy but of all types of renewable power.
“It comes down to the kind of future we want to see for ourselves,” he said. “This is a clean, renewable way to power our lives.”