Rhode Island touts wind farm project off Block Island

Source: By Mark Harrington, Newsday • Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As Long Island’s power utility once again mulls taking the plunge into wind power, the state of Rhode Island took a pre-victory lap here last week at a staging facility for the nation’s first offshore wind farm.

Rhode Island officials, including Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, took note of cooperation among state, industry and labor leaders to pave the way for the project, a 5-turbine wind farm situated several miles from the Block Island coast that will supply 90 percent of the island’s power.

Raimondo said that she was “exploding with pride” at being first, and said the state would do “everything we need to do to make Rhode Island the place of choice for businesses to be in this industry.”

The event at the state’s Port of Providence terminal Friday preceded a series of planned rallies by Long Island’s renewable energy advocates calling for the Long Island Power Authority, PSEG Long Island and the state to get behind a proposed 90-megawatt project to power the East End. At a rally Monday morning in Uniondale, environmentalists released a survey showing 93 percent of East End residents favor a proposed wind farm over fossil fuel plants.

More than 100 people packed a LIPA trustee meeting and many spoke passionately about the need for LIPA to move away from fossil-fuel plants. “We’re tired of waiting,” said activist Adrienne Esposito. “I hear you,” said trustee Jeff Greenfield. “I’m supportive of what you’re saying.”

LIPA has rejected two offshore wind proposals. A third joint project with Con Edison and the state Power Authority, which was proposed in 2009 for the waters 11 miles off Long Beach to Babylon, got a bureaucratic lift last week when the federal government declared the site a viable “wind-energy area.” Still, officials said construction could still be seven years away, and fishing groups oppose it.

Deepwater Wind, the developer of the Block Island project with turbine supplier GE Renewable Energy, has already set five foundations in the seabed in waters a few miles from Block Island, and expects to finish the project by year’s end. Deepwater is also the proposed developer for a 90-megawatt Long Island project to supply power to the South Fork — which would be situated in waters nearer Rhode Island, where Deepwater plans an array of hundreds of turbines.

Deepwater chief executive Jeff Grybowski said the company has examined staging facilities on Long Island, including in Port Jefferson and Shoreham, should its Long Island project win approval. “We would need some port facility considering how large in scope the project would be,” he said.

The South Fork project would be connected by a 30-mile cable to a LIPA substation in East Hampton. PSEG will be considering bids for the project, and potentially dozens of others, to supply power to the energy-hungry South Fork, in coming months, and could make a decision by May.

Grybowski said the challenge in starting the Block Island project has been to grow a nascent U.S. industry that to date has been led by European firms. “Americanizing the experience is really key for us,” he said.

Anders Soe-Jensen, chief executive of offshore wind for GE Renewable Energy, and a pioneer in the European market, said he’s seeing a shift in U.S. acceptance of offshore wind energy. “We have in Europe a very well-established supply chain,” he said. “I see no reason why it shouldn’t happen in the U.S.”