Offshore Wind Farm Marks Milestone in Energy Development and Marine Spatial Planning

As development of the first U.S. offshore wind farm begins in Block Island Sound, many Rhode Islanders and others are praising the state’s efforts in marine spatial planning and the role of the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) in the federal regulation and permitting process. Deepwater Wind, a Providence-based developer, received permission to begin its project just two years after applying, a stark contrast to the offshore efforts of the nearby Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, which faltered after a 9-year struggle with permitting.

BI_Farm2

Construction of Block Island wind farm. Photo courtesy Ambar Espinoza | Rhode Island Public Radio

Under the leadership of the Coastal Resources Management Council, Rhode Island Sea Grant and the URI Coastal Resources Center, the Ocean SAMP was created in 2008 by scientists, regulators and stakeholders to manage the ecological, economic, and cultural resources in 1,500 square miles of Rhode Island’s coastal waters. Some areas under the plan’s jurisdiction stretch beyond the three-mile state limit into Federal territory, a factor that was influential when working with federal agencies during the planning stages of Deepwater Wind. The Ocean SAMP provided much of the critical scientific data required by Deepwater Wind to select an appropriate site for turbine construction.

“Steel in the water off Block Island is an important step in proving that offshore wind is a viable technology off the coast of the United States,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, in a New York Times article on the construction. “Having an offshore wind project that people can see and understand and study will take away a lot of the concerns that folks had.”

RWU_jen

Photo courtesy of Roger Williams University

The ability of the Ocean SAMP to engage all stakeholders in productive discourse has also been lauded as a tremendous benefit to the local community. Fishermen were able to request changes to the development plan that Deepwater Wind considered and ultimately adopted.

A recent video from the Ocean Conservancy demonstrates how the Ocean SAMP was a pivotal tool in allowing all parties to voice their opinions and considerations. The video tells the story of the relationship between a lobsterman, Bill McElroy, and the CEO of Deepwater Wind, Jeff Grybowski; a friendship that is reflective of the continuous cooperation between stakeholders and development leaders. Both Grybowski and CRMC director Grover Fugate have been quoted stating that the SAMP process sidestepped years of regulatory and permitting time.

“They (Rhode Island and Deepwater) showed how it could be done,” remarked U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who spoke this week with Rhode Island NPR. “A place like Block Island, which could only burn dirty diesel fuel, will now have an opportunity for clean, renewable energy.”

John M. Boehnert, a Rhode Island lawyer and author, wrote in praise of the Ocean SAMP, describing it as a piece of “enlightened environmental regulation.”

Boehnert’s recent op-ed in the Providence Journal illustrated how Rhode Island’s advances in marine spatial planning could serve as a model for federal regulators as well as the management plans of other states looking to promote offshore wind farm development.

“After years of hard work, preparation, and planning, the Block Island Wind Farm is moving forward and is on track to become America’s first offshore wind farm. This innovative project puts the Ocean State at the forefront of the clean energy economy – generating clean energy for Rhode Islanders while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and creating hundreds of good jobs in the Ocean State,” said R.I. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse celebrating this milestone on a tour of the offshore construction site.

 

More information on the Ocean SAMP is available here: http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/oceansamp/.

 

In the media

Evan Ridley | Sea Grant Science Communications Intern and Marine Affairs Graduate student at the University of Rhode Island

 

 

Get the Latest News from Rhode Island Sea Grant

We'll send you our monthly "Coastal and Oceans Newsletter" highlighting ongoing projects at Rhode Island Sea Grant, upcoming events, and related news.