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Thursday, July 20, 2023

Two major Rhode Island off-shore wind projects stymied

Essential to meeting the state's green energy goals, we're our own worst enemy

By Will Collette

Rhode Island is officially committed to drastic cuts in fossil fuel use, shifting instead to green, renewable energy instead. There is broad consensus that the path to meeting our goals combines conservation with development of solar energy and off-shore wind.

We led the nation with the first operational off-shore wind farm off Block Island, its blinking red lights a reminder of the value of this energy source. Though opponents cried out that these turbines will ruin fishing, the ocean ecology and beach front views, none of that happened.

Now, two major wind farm proposals are struggling to get off the ground but are running into major hurdles. 

Here are two articles by the non-profit journalists at Rhode Island Current and ecoRI on the travails of these two projects.

Rhode Island Energy says ‘no’ to sole proposal for more offshore wind

by Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

The state needs more offshore wind to meet its aggressive decarbonization mandates, lawmakers and environmentalists agree.

But not if the price isn’t right.

Which is the reason Rhode Island Energy has opted not to award a contract to the only development team that responded to its solicitation to buy more offshore wind power. The state’s primary utility operator on Tuesday announced it will not ink a deal with Orsted A/S and Eversource Energy LLC for a second offshore wind farm powering Rhode Island because the companies’ proposal failed to meet state requirements.

“The economic development benefits included in the proposal were weighted and valued appropriately by our evaluation team, but ultimately it was determined those features did not outweigh the affordability concerns and other [state law] standards,” David Bonenberger, president of Rhode Island Energy, said in a statement.

Orsted and Eversource were the only team to submit a response to what was supposed to be a competitive state solicitation to buy up to 1,000 more megawatts of wind-powered electricity. The proposal called for an 884-megawatt wind farm, known as Revolution Wind 2, off the coast of Block Island – in the same federal lease area as its already contracted Revolution Wind project.

The offshore wind power duo are also behind a slew of other wind projects up and down the East Coast, and Orsted owns and operates the Block Island Wind Farm. 

Meaghan Wims, an Orsted spokesperson, said in a statement Monday the company was “disappointed” its project wasn’t selected.

“This project would put Rhode Island’s 100% clean energy future in reach, delivering renewable energy to hundreds of thousands of homes and creating more than $2 billion in direct economic benefits to the state, with historic investments in local union jobs, workforce training, ports and the supply chain,” Wims said. “We will assess our options for Revolution Wind 2.”

Rhode Island Energy will share further details of its analysis of the proposal, and why it didn’t meet state criteria under the Affordable Clean Energy Security Act, in filings to state utility regulators within the next 60 days. That includes the opportunity for Orsted and Eversource to respond, the company said.

Bonenberger remained bullish on the company’s commitment to offshore wind, insisting that the decision not to award a contract “doesn’t mean we are abandoning our commitment.”

“In fact, we are already in discussions with state and regional leaders about new opportunities to bring more offshore wind to the state, which we hope to progress in the coming months,” Bonenberger said.

That will likely include a new request for proposals, suggested by Gov. Dan McKee.

“In the upcoming weeks we look forward to working with Rhode Island Energy, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers and other parties to successfully advance a new offshore wind project procurement under the ACES Act,” McKee said in a statement.

Asked if Orsted would submit another proposal in response to a new solicitation, Wims said “we will assess our options for Revolution Wind 2.”

One thing is certain: the timeline for bringing more offshore wind power to the Ocean State will be pushed back.

 The state originally anticipated negotiating a contract this fall to submit to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission for approval in December. But opting against the only proposal submitted means the solicitation process will have to start anew.

The nascent industry has already been hampered by delays at the state and federal permitting levels for years. Indeed, four years have passed since the PUC gave its stamp of approval to the Revolution Wind contract. The project cleared a major hurdle with the completion of federal environmental review on July 17, but is still awaiting its final approval from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Assuming all goes as planned, developers anticipate starting construction in 2024, with the wind farm operational by the following year. 

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down on Rhode Island’s ambitious decarbonization goals, including a first-in-the-nation mandate to have 100% of state electricity needs offset from renewable energy by 2030. 

A 2021 report by state-commissioned consultant The Brattle Group concluded this landmark mandate was possible, but requires the state to buy 1.5 times as much renewable energy as it already had at the time. A second wind offshore wind farm was crucial, with another 600 megawatts fulfilling about 35% of state electricity needs by 2030 single-handedly, the report  stated.

“We need new offshore wind resources to provide clean, renewable energy to Rhode Island, and it’s extremely disappointing that the state’s latest procurement process has not resulted in any new development,” James Crowley, a senior attorney for Conservation Law Foundation, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Ramping up the development of clean energy is a major response to the crisis we’re facing, and the state needs to get moving.”

The economic benefits of more offshore wind power are not to be discounted, either. Orsted and Eversource said that if selected, Revolution Wind 2 would bring an estimated $2 billion in economic benefits to the state, with plans to invest another $35 million in port infrastructure upgrades and opening a national engineering hub in Rhode Island accompanied by 75 new jobs.

Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a coalition of labor and environmental groups, highlighted the well-paying, union jobs that have resulted from offshore wind activities already.

“Rhode Island was the first state in the country to build offshore wind and we need to build more of it if we want to tackle the climate crisis, lower energy costs and create good-paying union jobs in our community,” the organization said in a statement.



Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.

Proposal would have installed export cable along bottom of Sakonnet River

By Rob Smith / ecoRI News staff

State energy regulators decided to delay approval of a proposed offshore wind project that would have run an export cable along the bottom of the Sakonnet River.

The Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) voted to stay the application of offshore wind developer SouthCoast Wind until Oct. 1, 2024, or until it obtains new financing agreements for its proposed wind project 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The decision signals the end of nine months of controversy surrounding the developer, who originally indicated last October in filings to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities that its proposed wind facility may be not economically viable with the signed power-purchase agreements.

The 2,400-megawatt project was supposed to provide power to the Massachusetts grid, but developers gave it a local twist; proposing to install one of two export cables along the bottom of the Sakonnet River in Rhode Island waters, where it would run underground across Portsmouth before exiting in Mount Hope Bay to meet the grid at Brayton Point in Somerset, Mass.

But in a show-cause hearing before the EFSB last month, SouthCoast Wind confirmed its decision to withdraw from its current power-purchase agreements with Massachusetts, arguing the economics of the contracts were too low for economic viability, and indicated that it would bid for future contracts with better terms.

EFSB chair Ron Gerwatowski said, as far as the board was concerned, its consideration of SouthCoast Wind’s project application was terminated along with the contracts. Evaluating an application before the board, noted Gerwatowski, was a time-consuming and costly process for a number of state agencies.

“The siting board does not sit as an agency that reviews hypothetical projects to grant a license to any applicant in anticipation that the project may someday be needed,” Gerwatowski said. “Stated simply, if there’s no wind farm financed and constructed, there’s no need for the transmission facility.”

It’s nowhere near a final nail in the coffin for SouthCoast Wind’s proposed offshore project. The decision allows the company to bid in the next round of power-purchase agreements in Massachusetts, which is expected to be completed by next June, without completely restarting the state’s permitting process over again.

If the company does not secure financing by October of next year, the EFSB will dismiss the application.

SouthCoast Wind CEO Francis Slingsby said he was disappointed by the board’s decision, but remained confident that the company will construct the offshore wind facility.

“While this one aspect of permitting is temporarily on hold, we continue to advance our permitting with federal, Rhode Island and Massachusetts state and local bodies,” Slingsby wrote in a statement. “Our team is dedicated to safely building and delivering a reliable source of clean wind energy that will help states meet their greenhouse gas emission goals.”

The EFSB’s decision comes after weeks of growing controversy following an email from a Coastal Resources Management Council staffer. On July 3, David Ciochetto, a member of CRMC’s permitting staff, wrote a three-page email accusing SouthCoast Wind of lying in its statements to state regulators.

According to Ciochetto, company officials misled regulators when they said their application was under review by CRMC and when they claimed to have met with the agency’s Fisherman’s Advisory Board (FAB). Ciochetto also alleged the company lied to CRMC officials and ignored their information requests.

“At CRMC we are mostly worried about the uncertainty that the future brings,” Ciochetto wrote in the email. “There are serious impacts that may be realized. There are potentially more impacts to a small user group then there are benefits.”

In an email dated July 7 responding to the allegations, SouthCoast Wind disputed the claims in Ciochetto’s “highly unusual email communication,” noting the company had been and would continue to conduct its permitting and siting efforts with transparency and good faith.”

“SouthCoast Wind has and will continue to work closely with federal and state regulators to satisfy their questions and concerns about this complex multi-jurisdictional project,” wrote Christian Capizzo, the lead attorney for the project. “The email is factually inaccurate and attributes statements to SouthCoast Wind and its counsel that were never made.”

In a separate email to the EFSB, also dated July 7, CRMC executive director Jeff Willis said Ciochetto’s email “was not authorized by the CRMC.” Willis did note that SouthCoast Wind’s permit application had not been officially accepted by the agency, citing missing information on the application such as upland site control.

Meanwhile, the attorney for FAB, Marisa Desautel, wrote in an email dated July 10 that “no substantive mitigation meetings have been held between FAB and this developer.”

According to Desautel, the board and its experts have worked to execute a retainer agreement since January, and despite both parties exchanging 25 versions of the agreement, nothing has been signed.

The emails, ultimately, mattered little when the EFSB made its July 13 decision. In comments before the vote, Gerwatowski noted the company had failed to disclose in the show-cause hearing or after about the status of the CRMC application.

“We didn’t have that information in any event at this point,” he said. “I don’t believe that information affects the decision we’re making here today.”