EFSB Grants Towns’ Request to Intervene in Mayflower Wind Offshore Energy Project
October 5, 2022
WARWICK, R.I. – State regulators on Tuesday granted a limited motion from the towns of Little Compton and Middletown to intervene over the proposed Mayflower Wind offshore project.
As approved by the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB), the two municipalities will act as a joint party (to be named the “Coastal Communities”) with their scope limited to local economic impacts from construction activities on the Sakonnet River from the Mayflower Wind Energy LLC project. The decision comes just a month after the three parties announced they could not reach an equitable arrangement outside the board’s process.
“I have no reason to doubt that the towns are intervening because they have concerns that something is taking place in the water nearby that they’ve never experienced before,” said EFSB chairman Ronald Gerwatowski.
During a preliminary hearing last month, legal counsel for Middletown and Little Compton, Marisa Desautel said construction and maintenance of the proposed export cable to be buried under the Sakonnet River would have direct economic impacts on both towns’ tourism, boating, recreational fishing and tax revenue.
“The public comment period is not satisfactory for the town’s involvement,” said Desautel.
An attorney for the town of Portsmouth, Terrence Tierney, did not object to the motion for intervention, but refused to comment whether town leadership would support the project.
“The town is open to the project, we just want to take a look at it,” said Tierney.
As proposed, the Mayflower Wind project will place over 100 wind turbines and substations in a lease area roughly 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, generating 2,4000 megawatts of renewable energy – enough to power 800,000 homes across New England.
The project has a local twist: developers have asked to bury one of two export cables from the project underneath Rhode Island Sound, running into the Sakonnet River, before turning left around Boyd’s Lane in Portsmouth and running underground across to Mount Hope Bay, exiting somewhere east of the Mount Hope Bridge. The specific path of the cable has yet to be approved by federal or state regulators.
Portsmouth is expected to receive some form of payment from Mayflower Wind for hosting the buried cable, but the figure has yet to be announced.
Local recreational fishermen have expressed concerns over the impacts to marine wildlife, arguing that the electromagnetic field from the buried cable may impact fish in the river. In late August, the Rhode Island Saltwater Angler’s Association laid out its concerns in a letter, listing among other things the impact to cod stocks, with the river having just been designated as an inshore juvenile cod habitat area of particular concern by the New England Fishery Management Council.
Mayflower Wind officials say the impact of the buried cable would be minimal, and the only expected future intrusions would be an annual seabed survey of the areas surrounding the cable.
The proposed wind farm proposal is still far from complete, awaiting approval from federal, state and local authorities. The EFSB’s final decision includes 10 government agencies that must provide advisory opinions on the project before it can go forward.
The government agencies include the Portsmouth Town Council, department of public works, planning board, zoning board of review and the town building inspector. State agencies asked to weigh in include the Rhode Island Historical and Preservation Commission, Rhode Island Department of Public Management, the state Division of Statewide Planning, the state Department of Health and the Public Utilities Commission itself.
Each opinion must be related to that government organization’s oversight, the project’s harm to the environment and how it will affect the Act on Climate passed last year, which set mandatory, enforceable climate emissions reduction goals leading the state toward net-zero emissions by 2050.
Gerwatowski advised caution over the EFSB decision.
“I think we have to be careful how we set precedents on intervention. There could be other parties that want to intervene in future cases, and it would be easy for them to intervene and gain leverage over the applicant,” he said.
Mayflower Wind expects to have completed all environmental reviews and permitting by early 2024, with the project expected to become operational sometime in 2028.