Interior advances R.I. transmission proposal

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Obama administration said it will begin reviewing a proposed transmission project to connect a wind farm off the Rhode Island coast after confirming there is no competitive interest in the area.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finding is an important step for Deepwater Wind LLC’s 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, which would be located within Rhode Island’s state waters.

The agency may now review the company’s application to build a 9-mile-long transmission line along a 200-foot-wide corridor from Block Island to the Rhode Island mainland.

The wind farm will generate more than 100,000 megawatt-hours annually, supplying most of Block Island’s electricity needs, the company said. Excess power could be exported to the mainland through the transmission line, which could also ferry power from the onshore grid back to the island. The company said it plans to begin construction next year.

“Developing infrastructure to support offshore wind energy is a vital part of the Obama administration’s all of the above energy strategy,” said BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau in a statement. “Projects like this transmission line have the potential to bring clean electricity to Atlantic coast communities.”

Since the wind farm is located entirely within state waters, federal permitting will be led by the Army Corps of Engineers. BOEM will oversee the transmission line where it crosses through the federal outer continental shelf

Today’s announcement comes weeks after the Army Corps issued a Clean Water Act permit to a separate 25 MW offshore wind project by Fishermen’s Energy in state waters off the New Jersey coast.

Deepwater has also proposed a much larger 1,000 MW offshore wind project to serve Long Island and New England.

While offshore wind farms have operated for decades in Europe, the United States has yet to see construction on any commercial projects. Developers in the United States face high capital costs, unsettled federal energy policies and the potential for environmental lawsuits, among other obstacles.

Amid the challenges, the Obama administration has completed reviews of four offshore areas from Virginia to New Jersey it believes could be leased for wind development as soon as the end of the year. And BOEM last month released an environmental assessment of leasing for wind data gathering off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The agency said it will convene a joint Rhode Island and Massachusetts task force meeting tomorrow in Narragansett, R.I.