Block Island Wind Farm
Block Island Wind Farm Photo Credit: Deep Water Wind
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STATE HOUSE – Rhode Island would open the door to significantly more renewable energy for the state under legislation passed by the General Assembly today seeking the development of 600 to 1,000 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Arthur Handy at the request of Gov. Daniel McKee, would require a market-competitive procurement for between 600 and 1,000 MW of newly-developed offshore wind capacity. If enacted, Rhode Island’s primary utility company would be required to issue the procurement no later than Oct. 15, 2022.

“When we enacted the Act on Climate last year, Rhode Island made a historically firm, enforceable commitment to rapidly adopt renewable energy and get serious about our climate obligations. Projects like the one we’re seeking with this legislation are an important part of our energy future. I’m glad to see the level of support there is for a major project like this one, because it will be a major step toward responsibly developed renewable energy in Rhode Island,” said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) in a press release, who also sponsored the Act on Climate. The Act on Climate sets mandatory, enforceable climate emissions reduction goals culminating in net-zero economy-wide emissions by 2050.

The legislation (2022-S 2583A2022-H 7971A) now heads to the governor’s desk.

“There are so many reasons Rhode Island should be moving boldly in developing offshore wind and other renewables. We know from the Block Island Wind Farm that offshore wind works well here, and benefits our ratepayers. As the Ocean State, we are experiencing the negative effects of rising seas, so we need to do our share to move away from carbon fuels. Producing our own green energy is vastly more beneficial to our own economy than relying on fossil fuels that are often shipped from other areas of the world, which can also be subject to price volatility, as we are seeing right now. We will make great strides toward carbon neutrality with this policy, and I’m excited to see it move forward,” said Representative Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston).

Rhode Island is home to Block Island Wind Farm, North America’s first operational offshore wind farm, and the state has also approved the 400 MW Revolution Wind offshore project.

An additional 600 to 1,000 MW of offshore wind would further expand the state’s clean energy portfolio, with the potential to meet at least 30 percent of Rhode Island’s estimated 2030 electricity demand. This is equivalent to powering roughly 340,000 homes each year. Including the 30 MW Block Island Wind farm and the planned 400 MW Revolution Wind project, offshore wind would cover 50 percent of the state’s projected energy needs.

Under the bill, the state’s main electricity and natural gas distributer — now named Rhode Island Energy after its recent sale from National Grid to PPL — would be required to solicit bids for 600 to 1,000 MW of new offshore wind capacity to feed into the electric grid. The legislation was amended to change the size of the project, which was originally proposed at 600 MW, but now seeks as much as 1,000 MW. To incentivize the electric distribution company to procure a greater amount of renewable energy, the bill also allows the PUC to decide whether the company will receive an incentive payment of up to 1% of the contract amount. The incentive payment allowance will sunset at the end of 2026. The legislation gives the Public Utilities Commission greater authority to decide on disputed items in the contract between the utility and the developer.

The legislation requires the applications for new development to be publicly transparent, comply with labor standards and create a diversity, equity and inclusion plan that, at a minimum, addresses access to employment and vendor opportunities for historically marginalized communities.

The bill would also require offshore wind developers to provide information on potential environmental impacts through the submittal of an environmental and fisheries mitigation plan; estimates of local economic benefits.

Any proposed offshore wind contract would require review by the Office of Energy Resources, the Department of Environmental Management, and Rhode Island Commerce in the form of agency advisory opinions. Such contracts would have to be filed with the Public Utilities Commission for review and approval.

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Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What'sUpNewp.

He currently serves as Vice President of the Board Of Directors for Fort Adams Trust and on the Board of Directors for Potter League For Animals.

He is a member of Local Independent Online News Publishers, Society of Professional Journalists, and the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.