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Sunday, January 28, 2024

R.I. Supreme Court declines to take up SouthCoast Wind dispute with state energy regulators

Offshore wind NIMBYs suffer another legal setback

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

The Rhode Island Supreme Court opted not to get involved in state energy regulators’ deliberations over a proposal to run underwater transmission lines from a Massachusetts wind farm through Rhode Island waters.

The state high court’s Jan. 19 order denies SouthCoast Wind Energy LLC’s petition, seeking higher court review of the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board decision over the transmission line portion of its project. Which means the existing, July 2023 decision – which is actually not a decision at all, but a postponement – stands.

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 an 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 chose to end its existing power purchase agreements with Massachusetts utility companies in 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. 

In July, regulators voted to suspend their ongoing review of the project, giving SouthCoast until 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. 

Two weeks later, the developer appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, asking the court to vacate regulators’ decision to delay a final approval. In its petition, SouthCoast contended it didn’t need new power agreements for the state to continue its review, citing 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 single-page court order denying SouthCoast’s petition does not include any explanation; nor does it mean that the court agrees with energy regulators. Instead, the denial simply means the case does not warrant Supreme Court review.

“Given the Supreme Court’s decision, the Siting Board’s order stands, the stay is in effect, and Southcoast Wind must now meet the conditions set forth in the order before the licensing proceeding will be reopened,” Patti Lucarelli, the attorney representing the Energy Facility Siting Board, said in an emailed statement on Monday.

In an emailed statement, Rebecca Ullman, a spokesperson for SouthCoast Wind, said the company was disappointed by the court’s decision, and cited other important milestones the project had achieved with local and state agencies.

The Portsmouth Town Council on Jan. 16 approved a $23 million agreement with the company granting it access to town roads for power line burial. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council in December affirmed the transmission line portion of the project in accordance with state coastal policies, although a separate permit application remains under review.

“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,” Ullman said. “We remain committed to permitting and developing our project and participating in the upcoming Tri-State offshore wind procurement.” 

If new contracts are awarded and approvals secured, the two-phase, 2,400 megawatt project is expected to be completed by the end of the decade, with cable burial beginning sometime between early 2026 until late 2029, though the actual buildout will be far shorter, according to documents submitted by the development team.



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.