R.I. Coastal Agency’s Vote Moves Revolution Wind Project One Step Closer
May 10, 2023
The Revolution Wind project moved a step closer to putting steel into the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf when the Coastal Resources Management Council voted Tuesday night to declare to the federal government that the offshore wind project is consistent with the state’s coastal management policies.
The next big permission for the project would come from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which has final oversight over the project. That permission, preceded by a final environmental impact statement for the project, is expected to be granted this summer.
The 4-1 council vote, which opens an essential gate in the approvals process, came at the end of about five hours of testimony from the public in a hearing that itself was continued from the CRMC meeting of two weeks ago. Many commercial and recreational fishermen, as well as residents of coastal towns, spoke eloquently against the project, declaring it a threat to important fishing grounds and to the ocean environment.
Many others, including members of Climate Action Rhode Island, spoke in favor of Revolution Wind, declaring that harnessing the power of high winds over the Atlantic would move Rhode Island closer to its legislated mandates to increase the state’s proportion of electricity from renewable sources.
Under Rhode Island’s 2021 Act on Climate, Rhode Island must achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. And in 2022, the General Assembly revised the state renewable energy standard, requiring that 100% of Rhode Island’s electricity be offset by renewable production by 2033.
Before the final vote, the council added a condition that would require Ørsted, developer of the project, to move wind turbines and some electric cables off Coxes Ledge, a rich fishing ground and spawning area for cod and an area of particular concern to fishermen.
Representatives of Ørsted conferred for several minutes and agreed to the condition, provided that the new condition did not include relocating inter-array cables, which link the turbines to each other.
The last-minute condition requiring removal of turbines and export cables from Coxes Ledge allowed some wiggle room for the developer with the closing phrase “unless Revolution Wind denotes that micrositing [turbines] outside of Coxes Ledge precludes its ability to meet its power purchase agreement.”
In previous negotiations, Ørsted reduced the number of planned wind turbines from 100 to 65 and agreed to remove several planned turbine sites from Coxes Ledge, particularly in locations of complex seafloor.
The Revolution Wind project, in the planning for years, would place 65 turbines across 84,000 acres about 15 miles southwest of Point Judith. It is expected to deliver 704 megawatts (MW) of power, including 400 MW delivered to Rhode Island and 304 MW to Connecticut. The project would have two offshore substations. Export cables on the seafloor would bring power to the land-based grid at Quonset Point.
The final environmental impact statement for the project is expected to be published in June. Construction work would begin in 2024, starting with seabed preparation in January, foundation and turbine placement in May, and cable installation in July.
Opposition from commercial and recreational fishermen, who fear the loss of valuable fishing grounds, and some residents of coastal towns, particularly Little Compton, has been fierce throughout the process. Opponents have raised many concerns, including damage to fish, plankton, and seafloor ecosystems; threats by turbines and work boats to migrating marine mammals; disruption to the effectiveness of radar; questions about how decommissioning will be done and funded; disruption to fishery survey activities by the National Marine Fisheries Service; and use of U.S. infrastructure subsidies to pay for work by foreign-based companies.
Dozens of fishermen who spoke at the hearing said two or more generations of their families have taken pride in their work of providing food while also respecting the beauty and majesty of ocean life. They emphasized their credentials as hands-on environmentalists.
They also expressed deep worry about unknown consequences of the wind installation. Greg Licholai, a Little Compton resident, acknowledged “our globe is sick.” But he added, “Never go forward without an understanding of the risks and needs. This is a huge experiment off of our coast. Some of the analysis [of the project] has been kept in private. Our coast and its citizens are being treated like guinea pigs.”
Support for the project has been voiced by environmental organizations and a few oceanographers from the University of Rhode Island.
Justin Boyan, a member of Climate Action Rhode Island, said 85% of Rhode Island’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. “This is madness; it is immoral; it is incompatible with life,” he said. “I hear fears of the fishermen, but I don’t hear their fears of what will happen if we do nothing. The future will be much scarier and much worse if we don’t develop offshore wind than if we do.”
Peter Trafton, a member of the Environment Council of Rhode Island, pushed back against what he called “self-appointed experts with few valid credentials” who spoke at the earlier public hearing in April. Trafton focused on claims about problems with radar voiced last month by Elizabeth Knight, a project opponent who identified herself as a daughter of a Coast Guardsman.
Trafton said the National Academies’ committee on Wind Turbine Generator Impacts to Marine Vessel Radar has been studying radar performance for 15 years and offering recommendations for mitigation, but “does not propose that we cease or delay development of wind farms.”
Trafton admitted that his father “did not serve in the Coast Guard,” but that he did fight in the U.S. Army against the Axis powers, “a threat on the order of today’s global warming.”
“It will take similar degrees of national mobilization and international cooperation to win our war against global warming,” he said. “And one of the most important tools we have here in Rhode Island is offshore wind power generation.”
In an April 25 report, the CRMC staff recommended that the council vote in favor of Revolution Wind — that is, stating the project concurs with the state’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) — based on mitigation measures proposed by Ørsted.
In addition to reducing the number of turbines and moving them off Coxes Ledge, Ørsted previously agreed to spend $12,933,333 to create a Fishermen’s Future Viability Trust and a Coastal Community Fund, to compensate fishermen for gear loss and to provide advance radar systems.
The mitigation measures did little to relieve the worries of fishermen, who argued that the council would violate its own specific responsibility to protect the state’s coastline by allowing the project.
Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison with Seafreeze Shoreside of North Kingstown, which is now suing the Vineyard Wind project with help from the fossil fuel-supported Texas Public Policy Foundation, quoted from the Ocean SAMP: “The Council shall prohibit any other uses or activities that would result in significant long-term negative impacts Rhode Island’s commercial or recreational fisheries.”
David Osborn, a recreational fisherman, picked up on the point that the council’s primary job is protecting the coast and coastal communities. He read from the CRMC staff report: “Negative impacts are anticipated for Rhode Island-based commercial and recreational fishers from the development of the Project. … the [Revolution Wind farm] may cause major adverse incremental and overall cumulative impacts.”
“You have been put in the position of choosing fisheries protection over purportedly saving the world,” Osborn told the council. “We should have started to eliminate fossil fuels decades ago.” He referred to doctors’ Hippocratic Oath, “first, do no harm” and called offshore wind “a desperate, misguided rush to save the patient” — the overheating environment — “for the short-term satisfaction of doing something.”
CRMC council member Lindsay McGovern did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Last week, Save The Bay said McGovern is no longer eligible to serve on the CRMC board, according to a letter written by director of advocacy Topher Hamblett. The letter said the nonprofit discovered McGovern no longer serves as an appointed or elected official within the town she was selected to represent on the council, Narragansett, after a routine inquiry with the town clerk.