Posted on November 4, 2020
By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Local demand for offshore wind power continues to grow, as Rhode Island recently announced plans to buy up to 600 megawatts of new offshore wind energy to meet its renewable-energy targets.
The offshore power grab aligns with Gov. Gina Raimondo’s goal to source 100 percent of the state’s energy from renewable projects by 2030, either by paying for the electricity from renewable-energy projects or buying renewable-energy credits, known as RECs.
“Offshore wind will help us achieve that bold, but achievable goal, while creating jobs and cementing our status as a major hub in the nation’s burgeoning offshore wind industry,” Raimondo is quoted in an Oct. 27 press release.
Rhode Island energy commissioner Nicholas Ucci noted that new offshore wind energy will bolster the regional power grid. The added electricity will aid the transition from oil and gas heat to low-carbon heat sources such as heat pumps.
“Importantly, offshore wind can also help our electric system meet winter peak demand with stability-priced clean electricity, helping temper power price spikes faced by local homes and businesses,” Ucci said.
The state’s offshore wind announcement was endorsed by the Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC), a regional renewable-energy policy advocacy group.
“The transition to a just and clean energy economy cannot happen fast enough. The next 10 years must be a decade of action if we are going to reach our goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by moving to a majority of renewable resources,” NECEC president Peter Rothstein said.
Rhode Island’s latest wind procurement begins this fall, with the filing of a draft request for proposals (RFP) by National Grid. If approved by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a final competitive RFP would be issued in early 2021.
In May 2019, the PUC approved a 20-year agreement that allows National Grid to buy electricity from Revolution Wind, the 700-megawatt offshore wind project being developed by Ørsted and Eversource in federal waters between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.
Rhode Island bought 400 of the megawatts and Connecticut bought 300. Rhode Island’s 400-megawatt acquisition has the capacity to provide electricity to an estimated 260,000 homes annually. The new 600-megawatt RFP adds capacity to power an additional 390,000 homes.
In all, 15 offshore wind projects have active commercial leases along the Atlantic Coast.
Despite delays on environmental permits by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) some offshore wind projects are making progress.
In September, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Vineyard Wind’s interconnection agreement with grid operator ISO New England. The grid connection will take place at a substation in Barnstable, Mass., on Cape Cod.
The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind offshore facility is the furthest along the permitting process for a commercial-scale project. A decision on a key BOEM environmental approval is expected in December. The project will include 84 9.5-megawatt turbines.
The outcome of the presidential election may determine the fate of the project and the industry. President Trump has slowed the permitting process and has claimed, falsely, that wind energy causes cancer. Former vice president and senator Joe Biden has set a goal of doubling offshore wind energy by 2030.
States in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast are seeking to grow the offshore wind industry. The governors of Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia recently announced a collaboration to promote their regional assets, such as deepwater ports, as hubs for offshore wind development. The new group is called the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (SMART-POWER).
This new partnership may have limited potential after Trump banned in September offshore wind leases on the Outer Continental Shelf from Virginia to the Gulf of Mexico. The ban on new wind leases came about after Trump took back portions of his 2017 order to open the nation’s shoreline to offshore oil and natural-gas extraction.