Op-ed: RI must move forward on offshore wind

This spring, federal regulators approved the first large-scale offshore wind project in the country: Vineyard Wind 1. The project will power 400,000 homes, save Massachusetts ratepayers $1.4 billion in energy costs, and create 3,600 jobs for local residents. While this project will primarily benefit Massachusetts residents, it heralds the beginning of a new era of opportunity in green job creation and emissions reductions throughout our region.

Rhode Island has the potential to be a leader in the industry — if, that is, it seizes the opportunity.

As the first state to build an offshore wind farm, Rhode Island set a gold standard for deploying local skilled labor and evaluating wildlife impacts at the Block Island Wind Farm. Since then, offshore wind technology has advanced significantly. The cost is now competitive with fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, Rhode Island is faltering on offshore wind. To date, Rhode Island has procured only 430 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind, about 1% of the offshore wind currently in planning nationally, with no plans for further purchasing. Over a year ago, then-Gov. Gina Raimondo announced plans to procure an additional 600 MW, which coincided with an investment of $4.5 million in offshore wind workforce development. These plans stalled as Gov. Dan McKee transitioned into office and National Grid announced plans to sell Rhode Island’s electric business to a Pennsylvania-based company with no experience in offshore wind.

This is a missed opportunity for a state that has the potential to lead the nation in offshore wind. Despite its small size, the unique geography and experience of the Ocean State positioned it to punch above its weight when it comes to offshore wind. However, the industry’s center of gravity has shifted to New York and Massachusetts, with Massachusetts planning to contract 5,600 MW of offshore wind by 2027. Rhode Island appears to largely have lost its first-mover advantage.

Rhode Island must return to the table as a key player in offshore wind development to bring good-paying jobs and boost the economy. This action is essential to help the state reach the emissions reduction mandates established in its 2021 Act on Climate. Rhode Island can’t afford to delay. Governor McKee must make a public commitment to offshore wind and reaffirm the goal of rapid and responsible deployment in the coming years. The administration should direct the utility company to proceed with an offshore wind procurement of at least 600 MW – or, better, 1000 MW to make up for the past year of inaction – even as the utility sale continues under review. If approved, the new electric company should be required to continue the solicitation.

The administration should also seek public comment on the draft solicitation to ensure that future projects have the highest possible environmental protections, labor standards and investments in local job creation and economic benefits, especially in BIPOC and frontline communities. The solicitation should also consider environmental and fishing industry impacts to ensure the long-term viability and public support for these projects.

The legislature can take action by passing a 100% by 2030 Renewable Energy Standard. Setting this goal will send a signal to the renewable energy industry that Rhode Island is committed to clean energy. With these commitments, Rhode Island could become a leader in offshore wind energy again.

Kai Salem is Vice President of Policy for the Environment Council of Rhode Island and the Chair of the R.I. Committee of the New England For Offshore Wind Coalition.

Originally published in Providence Business Journal on 12/28/21. Read here