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Offshore Wind Energy

Overview

Currently, the vast majority of electricity used in Rhode Island is generated by burning fossil fuels; however, there is increasing interest in developing renewable energy sources on land and offshore to begin supplementing and ultimately replacing the use of fossil fuels. Rhode Island's Renewable Energy Standard created in 2004, calls for diversification of energy sources to produce electricity, decrease emissions, and increase jobs in the renewable energy sector; with a goal of supplying 16 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2019.

To inform how the state can attain this Renewable Energy Standard, the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources has recently supported the examination of the state's land-based and offshore renewable energy resources through two studies:

  • Rhode Island Renewable Energy Siting Partnership: A statewide project focused on land based renewable energy development, including siting and evaluation, and potential impacts of such development. Renewable energy plans focus on community based wind energy development, small scale solar power development on capped landfills, and hydropower on existing dams.

  • Ocean Special Area Management Plan: A planning process conducted by the RI Coastal Resources Management Council to promote, protect, enhance, and honor existing human uses and natural resources in the coastal waters of Rhode Island, while encouraging economic development and facilitating the coordination of state and federal decision making bodies.

Of all the types of renewable energy sources (e.g. wind, solar, wave), Rhode Island's greatest renewable energy resources are in offshore wind power.

Average annual wind speeds at a height of 80 meters above sea level

Interest in offshore wind energy has grown in the United States, especially along the Atlantic Coast primarily because offshore wind has a number of distinct advantages:

  • Offshore wind turbines can generate power close to coastal load centers where demand for energy is high, electrical rates are high, but space for new power facilities is often limited.
  • Placing wind turbines offshore avoids the constraints on size that onshore turbines face, allowing projects to take advantage of economies of scale and increase production efficiency
  • Wind offshore is generally stronger and more consistent than onshore wind, further increasing the amount of power than can be produced

Currently, there are no installed offshore wind energy facilities in the United States. However, offshore wind energy has been developed over the past two decades in Europe and there are a number of proposed projects in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic (see US Offshore Wind Collaborative’s website: (http://www.offshorewindhub.org/).

The Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) was a two-year planning process conducted by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) the state’s coastal administrator, and the University of Rhode Island with support from RIOER, to in part identify suitable areas off the coast of Rhode Island for offshore wind energy. This planning process examined:

  • Available offshore wind resources
  • Existing human uses
  • Natural resources and physical conditions
  • Potential impacts of development to the natural environment and people who use the waters offshore.

Ultimately two areas were identified off Rhode Island for offshore wind energy development:
(1) the Block Island Renewable Energy Zone, and
(2) the Rhode Island and Massachusetts Area of Mutual Interest, or Wind Energy Area.

Block Island Renewable Energy Zone

Block Island Renewable Energy Zone

  • Located in state controlled waters, 2 kilometers off the coast of Block Island
  • Capable of supporting a small-scale, pilot project
  • Latitude and longitude coordinates of Block Island Renewable Energy Zone

Northern Boundary 

41° 7' 29.208"

-71° 37' 58.26"

41° 7' 25.0212"

-71° 31' 46.6032"

41° 10' 7.2042"

-71° 30' 7.6788"

Southern Boundary

41° 6' 50.907"

-71° 39' 12.366"

41° 6' 45.8994"

-71° 30' 28.533"

41° 9' 45.8634"

-71° 28' 37.4118"

  • Currently proposed project:
    • Deepwater Wind LLC Block Island Wind Farm will consist of five wind turbines to produce 30 megawatts of power, a submarine cable connecting the five turbines, and a cable from the northernmost turbine to a connection point near Old Harbor at the Block Island Power Company. The wind farm is expected to be able to meet all of Block Island’s electricity demands, and for excess power produced, a cable connecting Block Island Power Company to the RI mainland has been proposed. Deepwater Wind is currently obtaining federal, state and local permits and approvals and hopes to start construction in 2014, with the project being commissioned in 2015.

Rhode Island and Massachusetts Area of Mutual Interest and Wind Energy Area

Rhode Island/Massachusetts Area of Mutual Interest and Wind Energy Area

  • Located in federally controlled  waters, 9.2 nautical miles off of the southern coast of Rhode Island, leasing authority is the Department of Interiors Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
  • Larger area (164,750 acres) capable of supporting a utility-scale wind farm. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has stated that the area could produce more than 3 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power over 1 million homes.
  • This area was identified in a Memorandum of Understanding between the Governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 2010, it later became the BOEM Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area in 2012
  • Based on a Request for Interest in 2011, there were multiple developers interested in this area, therefore BOEM is holding a competitive lease sale (this is the first of its kind in the U.S. for offshore wind)
  • A formal lease auction of this area was be held on July 31, 2013
  • Although Deepwater Wind won the lease, they still must undergo site assessment activities, environmental reviews, and design approvals before construction can begin.
  • Site assessment plans must be submitted to BOEM within 6 months of signing the lease. After approval, Deepwater Wind will have 4.5 years to submit a construction and operations plan for the wind energy project. Upon approval, Deepwater Wind will be granted a 25 year operation term.

For more information of the Competitive Lease Sale that was held July 31, 2013, click here.

 

Additional Information & Resources

Useful Links:


BOEM RI Activities:http://www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Program/State-Activities/Rhode-Island.aspx
BOEM Offshore Wind Energy: http://www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Program/Renewable-Energy-Guide/Offshore-Wind-Energy.aspx
OSAMP Chapter on Renewable Energy: http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/oceansamp/pdf/samp_crmc_revised/800_Renewable.pdf
CRMC:  http://www.crmc.ri.gov/
US DOE: http://www.eere.energy.gov/topics/wind.html

Governor Chafee letter to BOEM on proposed auction and leasing process for the Area of Mutual Interest

 

Offshore Wind Updates

Check back frequently to stay up-to-date on current Offshore Wind news and events!


Update:

Deepwater Wind captures both offshore wind-farm leases in first U.S. auction

Update:

The Department of the Interior announces a first-ever renewable energy lease sale on the outer continental shelf. Click here for the press release.

Update:

The Block Island 30 megawatt offshore wind project is currently going through its permitting review process with both state and federal agencies, including the Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) and the federal Army Corps of Engineers. The Block Island project is anticipated to start construction in 2014, with the project being commissioned in 2015. This will be one of the first offshore wind farms in the United States.

Update:

The Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) and the Department of Interior (DOI) are the two federal agencies overseeing this effort. The Office of Energy Resources and the CRMC have been monitoring this project's development, including the proposed federal offshore wind auction and leasing process, in coordination with the Governor and the Congressional Delegation.


For further information about the federal offshore wind projects, click here or contact:

Chris Kearns
Office of Energy Resources
401-574-9113
christopher.kearns@energy.ri.gov