PROVIDENCE – State leaders lavished praise on the people who envisioned and built the Block Island Wind Farm while marking its five-year anniversary on Thursday.
Bold promises abounded about Rhode Island’s growing role in the offshore wind industry since making a name for itself with the first-in-the-nation wind farm off Block Island. But details about the “thousands of jobs” and revolutionary environmental benefits that will result from Rhode Island’s foothold in the wind industry were noticeably absent.
Instead, the lineup of lawmakers, union leaders and project developers who spoke during the celebration event at the Wexford Science & Technology building focused on past successes, including the challenges they overcame in building the Block Island Wind Farm.
Joe Walsh, business manager of the Providence chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, recalled the late-night town meetings in which critics claimed the project would ruin their waterfront views and kill the state’s tourism and fishing industries.
Environmentalists condemned project proponents as “bird-killers,” remembered Scott Duhamel, secretary-treasurer of Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council.
Yet these concerns never came true, and the success story of the first-in-the-nation wind farm gave Rhode Island national, and even international, recognition, Duhamel said.
“That is what this is about, a burgeoning new industry in America with good-paying jobs,” Duhamel said. “We built that. We built those five.”
While it will forever hold the title of first, the Block Island project will soon be eclipsed by a slew of utility-scale projects with skyscraper-sized turbines that generate more than 20 times more power. Among them: Revolution Wind, a 704-megawatt giant from Block Island Wind Farm owner Orsted A/S and its partner Eversource Energy.
While the 100 turbines aren’t expected to start spinning for another three years, proponents say Rhode Island is already readying for – and receiving – the benefits of the massive wind farm.
David Hardy, CEO of Orsted Offshore North America, pointed to the company’s $40 million investment in port infrastructure, including a recently completed turbine manufacturing facility at the Port of Providence. Nationwide, the Danish wind developer has spent $2 billion on infrastructure and supplies across 44 states, he said.
As Orsted looks to expand its U.S. presence further, Rhode Island remains a bright spot for the company and one where “we feel like there’s a lot of opportunity,” Hardy said.
Meanwhile, the state has ponied up $35 million from its fiscal 2023 budget to build a wind turbine shipping area off of East Providence’s waterfront. Also during this legislative session, lawmakers committed the state’s utility company, Rhode Island Energy, to procuring another 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind power.
And on Thursday, Orsted and co-developer Eversource Energy awarded a contract for the cables that will connect Revolution Wind to the power grid onshore. Under the new deal with Nexans, the company will supply the underwater cables that transmit the wind farm power to the electric grid in Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to a news release.
The agreement marks the second deal with Nexans for this project; the company also won the contract for cable installation work earlier this year.
Taken together, the funding, policy changes and signed contracts mean Rhode Island is poised for long-term economic success, including “thousands” of jobs, Gov. Daniel J. McKee said.
“The people of the state of R.I. are going to get the benefit of an ongoing economy that is going to grow and grow and grow,” he said.
But the exact number of jobs – and when they will come – is unclear. McKee admitted he didn’t know these details, though he insisted he was not worried.
“I know the growth is going to be there,” he said.
Although McKee also said the state is not relying on federal leaders, the future of Revolution Wind and several other offshore wind arrays hinges on federal agency approvals, which have not been easy to secure in the past.
The 100-turbine wind farm off the coast of Block Island was originally set to be finished in 2023, but like other area offshore wind arrays, got held up during the federal permitting process due to the novelty of the industry and the prior presidential administration’s attitude toward renewable energy. Projects have also faced backlash from fishermen, who worry the massive turbines will disrupt the ecosystems and species on which their livelihood depends.
A preliminary assessment of the project’s environmental impacts published in August did not find it would substantially alter the fate of the fishing industry, which is expected to decline regardless due to climate change. The project could, however, improve the state economy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report.
After the initial evaluation, BOEM has begun a public comment period, which includes several online and in-person meetings in October. The feedback will be incorporated into the agency’s final review and decision, which it expects to be released next summer, according to Lissa Eng, an agency spokesperson.
Developers now expect to begin construction in 2023, with a targeted 2025 completion date.
Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.
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