‘Now is the time’ for offshore wind, says US energy official; IR at the forefront

NORTH KINGSTOWN, RI – Offshore wind power is having its moment, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at a Quonset roundtable during a visit to the state on Friday, and it’s only going to get bigger.

“I hope you feel the moment we’re in,” Granholm said. “If you ever wanted to work in this space, now is the time.”

On June 2, Granholm, along with Governor Dan McKee, the Rhode Island congressional delegation and other state officials, took a three-hour tour of the Block Island Wind Farm, the country’s first operational offshore development.

The five-turbine, 30-megawatt facility, just a few miles off Block Island, came online in late 2016 and generates power for both New Shoreham residents and communities on the mainland. At the time, the project was seen as something of a proof-of-concept development for offshore wind power in the United States, with dozens of proposed projects springing up in the years since.

Last week, state officials were eager to celebrate Rhode Island’s status as first in the nation in offshore wind power, emphasizing the industry’s record of creating jobs and noting the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it they are expected to reduce projects.

“We are headed toward a 40% carbon emissions reduction by 2030,” said Sen. Jack Reed, DR.I. “That will make a big difference for the generations that follow us.”

In the years since the Block Island wind farm came online, the state has doubled in offshore wind power. Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation expanding the state’s offshore wind power procurement from 600 to 1,000 megawatts (MW), enough to meet at least 30% of Rhode Island’s electricity needs by 2030, powering up to 340,000 homes per year.

McKee, who announced the request for proposal (RFP) on the acquisition in October, said Friday that the RFP process was ongoing.

A lifeboat next to a wind turbine
An elevator next to the fourth turbine of the facility. Only three of the five wind turbines off Block Island are currently operational, as Ørsted is performing maintenance on the other two turbines this summer. (Rob Smith/ecoRI News)

Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) officials said they expect federal money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to bolster the efforts of the state to electrify homes and vehicles, outlining ways the state will benefit from those laws.

The state is receiving nearly $62 million for housing reimbursements; $32 million for rebates based on energy performance; and $31.8 million for rebates for energy efficiency improvements. OER is also receiving another $22.9 million to expand the state’s network of electric vehicle charging stations, and is requesting another $15 million in federal dollars from the Fuel and Charging Infrastructure Program for the same cause.

The state is receiving another $3.2 million for the State Energy Program and $12.6 million for grid resiliency.

Offshore wind projects have also multiplied at the state level. The state’s coastal regulator, the Coastal Resources Management Board, is busy reviewing the impact that offshore wind projects on leased areas 20 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard could have on Rhode Island’s coastal waters, habitats, and economy. .

The agency, which only has a few staff members dedicated to offshore wind, including the director of CRMC, had previously given final approval to the 704 MW Revolution Wind project, which will land its export cables and connect to the grid. regional utility in Quonset to provide power to Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I., highlighted the work done by the CRMC past and present to prepare Rhode Island for offshore wind and hailed it as a model that should be replicated across the country.

“This happened because really good state employees did really good work for a long time with great stakeholder engagement,” he said.

The Revolution Wind project would place 65 turbines on 84,000 acres 15 miles southwest of Point Judith. The project still needs approval from the Federal Office of Ocean Management and construction could start next year.

Revolution Wind was widely opposed by commercial and recreational fishermen, who told coastal regulators they feared losing valuable fishing grounds and the potential damage that could be done to marine life and the seafloor ecosystem.

At the recent roundtable, Whitehouse acknowledged the impacts on fishing and other issues with offshore wind, including permitting reform for projects to bring them online faster, and a desperate need to increase incentives for Gulf states to encourage a renewable energy transition. He noted that the Gulf states receive 37 cents on the dollar for natural gas and oil and virtually nothing for offshore wind.

“There are headwinds in offshore wind that need to be addressed,” Whitehouse said, adding that he had introduced legislation at the federal level to handle some of the issues.