PROVIDENCE — The federal government on Tuesday signed off on Revolution Wind, the first large-scale offshore wind power project that would bring its electricity directly to Rhode Island.
The Department of the Interior’s decision is one of the last hurdles before the 65-turbine project can become a reality. Revolution Wind, a joint venture of Danish developer Ørsted and the Massachusetts utility Eversource, would be in federal waters more than 15 miles south of Rhode Island and 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard, the companies say. It would bring its power via an undersea cable to Quonset Point. Rhode Island is buying 400 megawatts of the project’s power, and Connecticut 304 megawatts. The federal government says that’s enough power for almost 250,000 homes.
“Revolution Wind will be key to Rhode Island and Connecticut’s clean energy future, and we’re grateful for the leadership from the Biden Administration, as well as our state partners and federal delegations, to grow the region’s offshore wind sector,” David Hardy, group executive vice president and chief executive of the Americas at Ørsted, said in a news release.
“Today’s approval is not the end of our work on this project,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “We will continue to maintain open communication and frequent collaboration with federal partners, Tribal Nations, states, industry, and ocean users to address potential challenges to and identify opportunities for the continued success of the US offshore wind industry.”
Ørsted has US co-headquarters in Providence and Boston. Eversource is in the process of exiting offshore wind partnerships with Ørsted, but it’s still listed as a partner in Revolution Wind.
The project faces a few other steps in the years-long approval process, but the decision from the Interior Department is the big one.
Technically speaking, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a record of decision outlining the various ways the project will try to minimize the impact of constructing and operating the project. Various agencies were involved in the 199-page report. Practically speaking, it means Revolution Wind is on track to begin onshore construction in the coming weeks, with offshore construction “ramping up” in 2024 and operations beginning in 2025, the developer says.
Supporters say offshore wind will help the states combat climate change and create good-paying jobs. While it will be Rhode Island’s first utility-scale wind farm, it will also serve as Connecticut’s first offshore wind farm, period, the developers say.
“The extreme weather we’ve experienced this summer underscores the growing dangers and devastating effects of global warming as well as the need for bold solutions to address the climate crisis,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said in a news release.
Revolution Wind, like other wind power projects before it, stoked opposition in some quarters of Rhode Island, particularly from the fishing industry and a group of Little Compton residents.
Commercial and recreational fishermen have raised concerns that the project would interfere with their industry; some coastal residents have raised several concerns, ranging from the impact of their visibility from the coast to concerns that can be broadly categorized as “industrializing” the ocean. Worries about environmental harms like whale deaths, experts say, are unfounded.
In May, Rhode Island regulators signed off on Revolution Wind with a $13 million mitigation package for local fishermen and coastal communities, on top of a $3 million package for approving the cable itself.
The approval drew a rebuke from long-running critics of the project, including Meghan Lapp, a member of an internal panel that advises the state’s wind power agency. The Fishermen’s Advisory Board has raised a number of concerns, including about species like Atlantic cod.
“The Ocean State is quickly becoming the Windmill State, regardless of impacts to what used to be its most precious resource — the ocean,” Lapp, fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd., said in an email Wednesday.
Rhode Island was the first state in the nation with an offshore wind farm with the five-turbine Block Island demonstration project. The state also had some say over the South Fork project southeast of Block Island because of its proximity. South Fork is under construction now but would bring its power to New York. All of South Fork’s foundations have now been installed.
Rhode Island this year also tried to get another wind farm on the books by soliciting another project, but only one proposal — Revolution Wind 2, a sequel of sorts — came forward. The state’s major electric utility said no because it said costs to customers would be too high.
It was just one sign of the recent headwinds the industry is facing.
But more projects are on the horizon in Rhode Island. On Tuesday, the state’s coastal regulator, the Coastal Resources Management Council, signed off on another Ørsted-Eversource project in waters south of Revolution Wind.
Like South Fork, Sunrise’s power would be for New York. But because of its location in federal waters near Rhode Island, the CRMC had some jurisdiction over it. On Tuesday, it voted that the project was consistent with the state’s coastal policies, a key vote in the process. Sunrise would be even larger than Revolution, with up to 84 turbines.
“We’re pleased to reach another milestone in the process of making Sunrise Wind a reality, and we thank the leaders on the Coastal Resources Management Council and the members of the public for their attention to and input on this significant project,” the developer said in an emailed statement.
This story has been updated with a comment from Meghan Lapp, and action by the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council.