Rhode Island regulators approve 704-megawatt offshore wind project
Credit: "Revolution Wind offshore wind project clears CRMC hurdle. What's next for the project?" | Alex Kuffner, The Providence Journal | May 10, 2023 | providencejournal.com ~~
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A large offshore wind farm aimed at helping Rhode Island meet its climate goals cleared a major hurdle late Tuesday night when state coastal regulators approved a key certification for the 704-megawatt project.
The vote by the Coastal Resources Management Council moved Revolution Wind one step closer to becoming the third utility-scale offshore wind farm to be cleared for construction in America. Onshore cable work for the 65-turbine project proposed by Danish offshore wind company Ørsted and New England electric supplier Eversource could begin as soon as this summer, when a record of decision is expected from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
What did the CRMC decide?
The bureau’s decision is the key approval for the wind farm that would be built far offshore in federal waters between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard. But a favorable vote from the Rhode Island council certifying that the wind farm is consistent with state coastal policies was also necessary for the project to progress.
The vote came despite objections from fishermen, who say the project and others like it will shut them out of fishing grounds and cause economic losses in their industry. Other critics raised broader concerns about offshore wind as a viable source of energy, while supporters argued that development of wind resources is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
After hearing nine hours of testimony over two meetings, the coastal council followed the recommendation from its staff to certify the project with certain conditions that include the creation of a $12.9-million fund to pay fishermen for any losses. The only change the council made was to strengthen language around avoiding sensitive habitat in an area of waters known as Cox Ledge.
Even as their application moves through the regulatory process, Ørsted and Eversource are building pieces of the wind farm. Just last week, they invited Gov. Dan McKee and other elected leaders to the Port of Providence to mark the beginning of fabrication of key turbine components.
Rhode Island is at the forefront of the country’s offshore wind push
Revolution Wind would be the second offshore wind farm to supply power to Rhode Island after a 30-megawatt project completed in 2016 in state waters off Block Island. The Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind farm in the nation, is also owned by Ørsted. Revolution Wind has a contract in place to supply 400 megawatts of capacity to Rhode Island, with the remainder to go to Connecticut.
Ørsted and Eversource are already building another major wind farm in the waters off Southern New England. The 12-turbine South Fork Wind Farm, which would provide 130 megawatts of capacity to Long Island, is expected to commence operations before the end of the year.
So, too, is Vineyard Wind, an 84-turbine project that would deliver power to Massachusetts. The 800-megawatt wind farm is under construction in waters south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Fishermen worry about impact on cod habitat
Like South Fork, the Revolution project would be built closer to shore in the vicinity of Cox Ledge. The waters around the ledge are known for their rich diversity of species and serve as a nursery ground for fish. They are one of the only remaining places off Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts where Atlantic cod are known to spawn.
It’s one reason why fishermen say the project site is a particularly bad place for development.
“It is a sacred location that serves thousands of fisherfolk both directly and indirectly,” said Ebben Howarth, a Block Island fisherman who described the wind farm as “a massive gamble.”
The environmental group Save The Bay, which supports offshore wind, has also pointed to possible long-term impacts in the area and urged the developers to do more to minimize damage to the ocean floor.
Not all in the fishing industry are against the project. David Yerman, a Connecticut fisherman whose firm is employed by Ørsted and Eversource, said those in the industry can work with offshore wind developers.
“Offshore wind development is not a threat to commercial fishing,” he said. “It is an opportunity.”
But every other person from the fishing industry that spoke voiced opposition to the application.
Barbara Watts, an emeritus marine research scientist at the University of Rhode Island, acknowledged the concerns about impacts on the marine environment, but said that the effects of climate change would be more devastating.
“I’m afraid of delay,” she said. “If we delay the implementation of offshore wind, we are going to face continued consequences that we cannot mitigate of climate change.”
CRMC member, whose eligibility was called into question, absent from meeting
Absent from the meeting was council member Lindsay McGovern. In a letter to the council last week, Save The Bay called into question her eligibility to sit on the council because she no longer serves as an elected or appointed official, as state law requires, in the town she represents, Narragansett.
McGovern’s appointment to the council in 2021 stirred controversy, because it came on the same day that the South Fork project came up for certification. Soon after her confirmation, McGovern, an executive with a renewable energy developer, was at the meeting and would later vote for the project.
The questions around her eligibility come as the 10-seat council is already short-handed, with three other vacancies. There have also been calls for restructuring the council amid concerns about some of its decisions in recent years.
The Revolution project won certification in a 4-to-1 vote, with one council member abstaining.
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