State’s Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor tells Recharge there are grounds to believe the industry can be successful as stakeholders find common ground
September 10, 2019 — Despite the murky immediate US offshore outlook surrounding the Vineyard Wind project delay, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration is “very optimistic” that the nascent industry will ultimately gain federal approvals and build projects along the Atlantic coast, secretary of commerce Stefan Pryor tells Recharge.
That optimism reflects a belief that offshore wind power will become an affordable alternative to fossil fuels and a pragmatic response to climate change but also that stakeholders will find common ground, allowing the industry to navigate the regulatory processes.
“I think the vigorous, yet responsible pursuit of offshore wind energy production is wise, even a necessity. These electrons can be offered at a rate that is fair to the ratepayer,” says Pryor, a member of Raimondo’s cabinet and a key advisor on renewable energy issues.
“We’re frankly in a race against global warming and it’s important that we arrive at energy solutions that are practical and sufficiently productive in the short- and medium-term,” he argues. “Offshore wind is an avenue that can produce these outcomes in a reasonable period of time.”
Rhode Island remains the only US state with a wind farm off its coast – the five-turbine, 30MW Block Island pilot that began commercial operation in 2016. A second project, Revolution Wind, a joint venture between Orsted and regional utility Eversource, will supply 400MW of capacity to the state and 300MW to neighbouring Connecticut when online in 2023.
Pryor recently returned from Denmark for a first-hand look at several offshore facilities and came away impressed.
“The scale of these installations is much greater that what’s contemplated in any particular region of the US at the moment,” he says. ““Human beings are quite capable of producing these wind farms at scale. It’s about time the US got going in earnest with it.”
The Department of Interior’s (DOI) decision last month to suddenly veer from what had been a public and transparent permitting process since late 2017, forced Vineyard Wind to defer its 800MW project – the first major US offshore wind farm – with a contract to sell electricity into Massachusetts starting in 2022.
DOI’s stated reason was to conduct an additional study looking at the cumulative impact of the growing offshore wind pipeline along the east coast, which the department says is greater than what it anticipated when it did a draft
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Vineyard that was released early this spring. It is unclear how long the study will take. As of Friday, it was still developing the so-called “cumulative impact scenario” including what will be analysed. A subsequent 90-day public comment period on the study will then be held.
“It’s important for the US offshore wind industry that projects make it all the way through the regulatory process.”
The move to delay a key permit necessary for construction start this year left the developer – a joint venture between Iberdrola’s Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners – in the dark over when a final approval could be forthcoming, and the industry and some states calling for consistency in the regulatory approval process.
When asked if the Vineyard delay was a bump in the road or had potential broader implications for the industry, Pryor says: “That remains to be seen but I think there is no specific and clear evidence that this one instance will a trend make.”
The Raimondo administration is not in position to “intricately analyse” what Vineyard Wind submitted to DOI or the department’s determinations regarding the project.
“Having said that, it’s important for the entirety of the US offshore wind industry that projects make it all the way through the regulatory process to approval and installation,” he said.
The Raimondo administration has also been encouraged by growing regional cooperation among New England states at this early stage to help stand-up an offshore wind supply chain, which bodes well for the industry’s longer-term future.
“It appears if the projects proposed are authorized in New England there will be abundant work for the ports plural in this big region,” he says, referring to the initial 2.5GW of capacity off the coasts of Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. As well, offshore developers elsewhere, which he did not identify, have inquired whether Rhode Island has port-adjacent land available for their projects.
“There will need to be an approach that involves all the port assets and all the talent of the region. If we collectively play our cards right, this will be a boon to our entire area,” he says.
While there will need to be domestic production and assembly for portions of the turbine installation, it’s uncertain based on offshore wind power procurements thus far which segments make sense for the US, observes Pryor.
“It’s not yet clear precisely what scale the US will get to and whether the scale will justify the most substantial portions of the manufacturing process being located here,” he says.
Rhode Island’s belief, however, is that a state that gets involved with offshore early and strategic enough can figure out the niche or niches that make sense for it and can benefit enormously. “It’s a dynamic process,” he adds.
Rhode Island is leveraging its first-mover position to both attract sector investment and work with industry players to show how a state can be what Pryor calls a “locus of activity” for its own projects and a resource for others elsewhere.
Since June, UK-based turbine service firms Boston Energy and GEV Wind Power announced they will open offices in the capital Providence and hire 200 workers. Pryor said it is his hope that in five years there will be a “significant handful of states in active installation mode.”
By this, he means turbines are being installed offshore in multiple locations, ports are being utilised, supply chain development is taking shape, and stakeholders are coordinating and cooperating in ways that will ensure the industry’s sustainability.
Article originally appeared at RechargeNews: https://www.rechargenews.com/wind/1848965/rhode-island-upbeat-on-us-offshore-wind-despite-near-term-fog