R.I. Coastal Agency Approves New England Wind Project off Martha’s Vineyard
First wind project to be considered by CRMC without input from Fisherman’s Advisory Board
October 16, 2023
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island coastal regulators gave the green light last week to another offshore wind project proposed for southern New England’s waters but without a key stakeholder in the room: the state’s fishing industry.
The Coastal Resources Management Council ruled by unanimous vote the 804-megawatt (MW) New England Wind project developed by Connecticut-based energy company Avengrid was consistent with federal and state regulations so long as it agreed to certain stipulations provided by agency staff. Final approval of the New England Wind project — formerly Vineyard Wind South — is left up to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
The project would install 84 turbines in a lease area 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, and deliver electricity via a buried export cable that would make landfall in Hyannis, Mass. Except for a small portion of the export cable, the project is located entirely outside of Rhode Island state waters.
It is the first wind project to be considered by CRMC’s executive body without input from the Fisherman’s Advisory Board (FAB). The board, a stakeholder group staffed by recreational and commercial fisherman and representatives from other related marine industries, resigned in protest in August, alleging state regulators were ignoring their own regulations to approve offshore wind projects that would be harmful to the environment and the fishing industry.
CRMC executive director Jeff Willis said at last Tuesday’s meeting that FAB’s resignations would have no impact on the approval process for New England Wind, and that the agency has continued to reach out to the members of the board and ask for their participation.
Kevin Sloan, a coastal policy analyst for CRMC, said BOEM and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), the federal legislation that empowers states to regulate their coastal areas, allows the agency flexibility in certain situations. Sloan also said New England Wind already satisfied the legal requirement for FAB participation earlier in the process. According to Sloan, an August 2022 meeting between FAB and the developers will satisfy the legal requirements under the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), the document that governs development in ocean waters close to Rhode Island.
But it may have not mattered regardless, because the bulk of the project is in federal waters, and BOEM gave CRMC a strict deadline, Oct. 13, to rule on the project. If the agency did not make a decision by the deadline, BOEM counts it as a concurrence, and ultimate approval for the wind facility is a federal government decision.
Despite New England Wind’s approval, future offshore wind projects could be hamstrung without active FAB participation. “[FAB participation] is necessary in the context of the Ocean SAMP,” Sloan said.
Meanwhile, project developers told the council the impact to underwater habitats, and by extension, the state’s fishing economy, should be minimal. Unlike Sunrise Wind, which proposed a wind project on the habitat-rich Cox Ledge, the project area is a less complex underwater habitat, and overall generates much less revenue compared to other wind project proposals in other lease areas off the New England coast.
The exposure to the state’s fishing industry in the project area is estimated to be $4.3 million over the wind farm’s lifetime, and New England Wind has pledged to deposit the amount into an account for the fishing industry to use as it will.
But a lack of FAB presence isn’t the only wrinkle for the New England Wind project; it also has no one to buy the electricity expected to be generated by the project.
Avangrid, the energy company behind the New England Wind project and other proposed wind farms near Rhode Island coastal waters, terminated their power-purchase agreements (PPA) with three Massachusetts facilities for their Commonwealth Wind project earlier this year, citing increased supply chain costs and inflation, and a desire to gain a better deal.
They weren’t the only ones. SouthCoast Wind, an offshore wind developer that announced last year a 800-MW wind farm 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, also terminated its PPAs with Massachusetts utility companies, paying a $60 million fine in the process.
Both companies have indicated they will re-bid for new contracts with the same three utility companies and expressed confidence they will be awarded yet again.
Earlier this year Rhode Island Energy rejected the only bid it received for a state-issued request for proposal (RFP) for 600 to 1,000 MW of offshore wind. Company officials declined to go into specifics, but indicated that building wind energy as proposed was too costly for the ratepayer, citing higher interest rates, increased capital costs, supply chain expenses and uncertainty over federal tax credits.
State officials are sweetening the pot. Earlier this month Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut announced they were teaming up for a first-of-its-kind, multistate proposal process for offshore wind. The states are seeking multi-state project proposals next year for a total of 6,000 MW of offshore wind.
Ken Kimmel, vice president of offshore wind development for Avangrid, said the company, which currently lacks PPAs for two wind farm projects, including New England Wind, was deeply interested in the RFP.
“These are projects for which PPAs have been terminated but we are planning on bidding again and we’re very interested in the multistate RFP,” Kimmel said.
Join the DiscussionView Comments
Your support keeps our reporters on the environmental beat.
Reader support is at the core of our nonprofit news model. Together, we can keep the environment in the headlines.