PROVIDENCE — As politicians and business leaders and press wranglers and reporters descended on ProvPort Monday morning, workers like Nicki Kent kept going about their day assembling wind turbine parts.
Kent, of Pawtucket, is an electrical finish foreman overseeing a crew of eight union electricians and ironworkers. The task on Monday was a punch list for turbines’ elevated working platforms — torquing bolts, double-checking wiring, and doing other mechanical labor to make sure everything, from beacons to navigational aids, is up to spec.
There was work going on everywhere in the port for Kent and about 125 other people who are building the parts that will go into two offshore wind farms.
“It’s like a hive — everyone’s got a job,” said Kent, who was wearing IBEW Local 99 safety gear and a hard hat decorated with Rosie the Riveter and a sticker that said, I’m silently judging your wiring.
Supporters said workers like Kent are the way of the future: the future of Rhode Island jobs and of efforts to combat the climate crisis. Many of those supporters got to see it first-hand Monday, even as some projects — including one of the ones they are working on — face local headwinds.
“We’re here to celebrate all the jobs that have been created by the green economy and offshore wind,” said Jim Hunt, executive vice president at Eversource Energy, which is half of a joint venture developing offshore wind power projects.
The event Monday included a speaking program under a tent whose awning was flapping in an insistent breeze, followed by a tour of the windswept waterfront site.
The work at ProvPort is building parts for two offshore wind power projects. One, South Fork Wind, will begin offshore turbine installation in the summer after recent cable-laying operations. The other, Revolution Wind, still has a few more approval hoops to get through before it can commence offshore construction, but the developer is apparently confident enough — “we’ll trust the process,” an executive said — that work on the components for it is already underway at the port.
The projects are a joint venture of the developer Orsted and the utility Eversource, which are contracting with a company called Riggs Distler for the components work at ProvPort. ProvPort is a port operator within the broader federally designated Port of Providence.
At a newly constructed building on site there, workers were assembling parts of the suspended internal platforms, which sort of look like the three-tiered tray of finger foods they bring you at afternoon tea in England except several stories taller and more technologically advanced. Those will go inside the turbine towers and house the wiring and sensors, acting like the turbine’s brain. Nearer to the water, workers like Kent were putting together the elevated platforms, which will go on the outside of the turbines and give workers a place to access the turbines from. Work is also being done at ProvPort on anode cages to protect the turbines from corrosion.
The components for South Fork Wind, which would bring its power to Long Island, are all but done, and some were waiting by the water to be taken out to the site in the coming weeks. The ones for Revolution Wind, which would provide power for Rhode Island and Connecticut, are just now beginning to take shape.
Revolution Wind would be the first large-scale offshore wind farm to bring its power directly to Rhode Island, and the second offshore wind farm of any size to do so after the demonstration-scale Block Island wind farm. Though the developer said onshore work for components is underway, the project itself still doesn’t have approval yet.
Last week the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council took up testimony and heard from the public about whether Revolution Wind is consistent with the state’s coastal policies. The agency’s professional staff has recommended that the politically appointed board vote that it is, indeed, consistent. From there, the project would go to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for possible approval.
But at the CRMC, people had so much to say that even four hours of input wasn’t enough for a vote, and the meeting was continued to May 9. Though supporters said the project is a crucial part of the state’s efforts to address the climate crisis and will create good jobs, an internal CRMC panel of fishermen has raised concerns about the project’s impact on the navigation of vessels and the health of the species they catch. The fishermen have also said that the mitigation package from the developer — nearly $13 million — wasn’t enough to account for the projected harms over the construction, operation, and eventual decommissioning of the turbines. One member of the Fishermen’s Advisory Board, meanwhile, said that Governor Dan McKee has been “ducking” them, part of what commercial fisherman Chris Brown sees as McKee’s favoritism of the green energy industry over commercial fishing.
McKee was asked by a reporter Monday after the tour at ProvPort about that criticism. Although he hasn’t met with the Fishermen’s Advisory Board personally, McKee said his office has been talking with fishermen throughout the process.
“I certainly am a supporter of the fishing industry when I put $40 million into Galilee to keep the fishing industry alive and well,” McKee said.
Meanwhile David Hardy, the CEO of the Americas for developer Orsted, said the company has worked since the beginning to coexist with the fishermen.
“We think we’ve been, quite frankly, more than fair,” Hardy said. “We’re really trying to work together with them, and we’re open to continue to try to do that.”