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US energy secretary visits the ‘poster child’ for offshore wind development

The 12-turbine South Fork project, about 19 miles southeast of Rhode Island, will pipe its energy to Long Island.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, center, speaks with workers, and Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee, left, while visiting a new Providence, R.I., facility where foundation components for the South Fork wind project will be assembled.Jennifer McDermott/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — The U.S. energy secretary visited the Providence River waterfront Thursday to see the new wind foundation manufacturing site now under construction at ProvPort, showcasing Rhode Island’s outsized role in offshore energy production.

“This is the poster child of how we want to do this,” Secretary Jennifer Granholm told the fluorescent-garbed crowd of union leaders, energy company execs, politicians and reporters. “This is the way it should be — the partnership between the federal government, the state, labor and the private sector.”

The site is being built by Dimeo Construction for the utility Eversource and wind developer Ørsted, which are also teaming up on major offshore wind projects off the coast of New England. The 228-foot-long facility on the water here will become a site to assemble foundation components for the South Fork wind project — approved by the federal government just last week — and eventually the even larger Revolution Wind and Sunrise Wind if those get approved. From there it could serve future projects coming down the pike, too.

“It’s the start of something,” said David Hardy, CEO of Ørsted Offshore North America. “Once you get the trained workforce, you can expand from there.”

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The 12-turbine South Fork project, about 19 miles southeast of Rhode Island, will pipe its energy to Long Island. Revolution Wind would provide power to Connecticut and Rhode Island. The lease area for Sunrise, about 17 miles off Block Island, would bring power to New York. South Fork was just the second major offshore wind farm approved by the U.S. government, after Vineyard Wind. The five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm was a smaller-scale project to prove that offshore wind could work, and didn’t need to go through the federal approval process that South Fork has done and Revolution is doing now.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, right, speaks with Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee on Thursday while visiting an under construction fabrication and assembly facility for offshore wind turbines at the Port of Providence in Providence, R.I. The building is scheduled to be finished this spring to support two offshore wind projects, Revolution Wind and South Fork Wind.Jennifer McDermott/Associated Press

Rhode Island has been at the forefront of wind power, and wants to stay that way; as Granholm recounted Thursday, she was telling fellow cabinet member Commerce Secretary (and former Rhode Island governor) Gina Raimondo on Wednesday that she was coming to Rhode Island.

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“Block Island!” Raimondo responded, according to Granholm. “We were the first!”

According to the Department of Energy, the site at ProvPort will be one of the first of its kind in the United States; much of the supply chain, the department said, still operates out of Europe.

“It’s not just the right thing to do for the environment,” said Gov. Dan McKee. “But it’s the right thing to do for jobs, the right thing to do for our economy.”

Denmark-based Ørsted, pronounced in the native tongue something like “uhhr-sted,” appears at first glance extremely Scandinavian, especially with the O that has a slash through it. But the jobs involved in this project will be extremely local, both the 40 union construction workers putting the building up now and the people eventually working in the plant itself, estimated at about 100 when it’s operational. Ørsted’s U.S. headquarters are split between Boston and Providence, and 250 people work here in America.

That local footprint is now growing by 228 feet laterally, as part of the $40 million Ørsted and Eversource investment between ProvPort and another site at Quonset Point in North Kingstown.

“It’s manufacturing fabrication jobs in the city of Providence — there’s not a lot of that happening,” said Chris Waterson, general manager of ProvPort’s manager, Waterson Terminal Services. “Those jobs will come from this community.”

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Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him @bamaral44.