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Friday, August 4, 2023

SouthCoast Wind files court challenge to R.I. regulators

Wind Farm developer challenges state roadblocks

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

An offshore wind developer wants a state supreme court justice to vacate a decision by state regulators to suspend their review of a Sakonnet River transmission line for the project.

In a petition with Rhode Island Supreme Court on July 28, SouthCoast Wind Energy LLC contends that the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board decision “is contrary to law and should be vacated.” 

Last month, the board unanimously agreed to halt its review of the transmission lines for the project until the developer secures new agreements guaranteeing the project’s financing. 

The 149-turbine wind farm, planned off the coast of Massachusetts, was originally intended to bring 1,200 megawatts of power to the Bay State. While centered in Massachusetts, the proposal also needed the signoff from Rhode Island regulators on plans to run a underwater transmission line from the wind farm up the Sakonnet River, over Portsmouth and out Mount Hope Bay to reach land in Somerset’s Brayton Point. 

But after SouthCoast opted to renege on its existing power purchase agreements with Massachusetts utility companies in the hopes of getting a better deal, Rhode Island regulators agreed it was a waste of time and resources to continue their review when the project’s future is still uncertain.

The Energy Facility Siting Board’s unanimous decision on July 13 gave the developer Oct. 1, 2024, to submit proof that it has won a new contract with Massachusetts, along with how the new agreement might impact the existing route and design of the transmission lines. The developer can also ask for more time “upon reasonable grounds.”

According to a draft timeline filed with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, the state anticipates awarding a bid and starting negotiations for power purchase agreements on up to 3,600 megawatts of wind power in June 2024. 

But SouthCoast contends it doesn’t need new power agreements to prove its project is viable. The complaint cites a state law which “establishes a flexible need standard that is not dependent on the award of a [power purchase agreement or any prescribed demonstration of project viability.” 

The company instead points to other evidence of its commitment to the project, including federal permits under review and a separate application to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, though the council has not yet deemed its application completed. The company also allotted $100 million for the project this year, according to filed testimony. 

By forcing the developer to provide a new agreement, state regulators violated their own law, the complaint stated. The decision also conflicts with state and regional decarbonization mandates which depend upon offshore wind power to reach incremental benchmarks in reducing emissions, according to the complaint.

“The SouthCoast Wind project is vital to the region’s mandated goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, prioritizing the development of clean energy resources, and creating economic growth,” Rebecca Ullman, a spokesperson for SouthCoast, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. 

“A decision enabling SouthCoast Wind’s EFSB application to move forward will help ensure that Rhode Island’s goals to have 100 percent renewable energy by 2033 and become a major East Coast offshore wind hub, continue to progress.” 

The Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board did not immediately return inquiries for comment on Tuesday. 

This story has been updated to correct the number of turbines in the project.



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.