Power Struggle: Wind Energy in New England

By Dick Dahl | Courtesy of Roger Williams University Law Magazine

 

Cape Wind was positioned with what would’ve been the nation’s first offshore wind farm, but too many impediments stood in the way with further difficulties after National Grid and Northeast Utilities terminated their purchase agreements in January.

However, Deepwater Wind has taken the reins with construction plans intended to put steel in the water this summer. A five-turbine operation is targeted to provide electricity for Block Island starting next year.

A new era of renewable offshore wind energy may be dawning in the U.S., with southern New England at its cutting edge. But how, exactly, did this come about?

One reason, according to RWU Law adjunct professor Harlan M. Doliner, is that in addition to the ideal nature of its ocean waters, southern New England has the infrastructure – both physical and intellectual – to support an offshore wind farm. It is home to myriad marine-related institutions – the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, and RWU Law’s own Marine Affairs Institute – and manufacturing and service companies. “We have the intellectual capital here and we have the companies, both big and small, that make the gizmos,” he said. “Plus, we have 400 years of seagoing tradition.”


 

ZONING THE OCEAN

RWU_jen On the federal level, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized a reconfiguration of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service into BOEM and vested it with offshore lease-granting powers. At about the same time, Massachusetts and Rhode Island launched their own state actions to better regulate offshore wind development.

In 2010, Massachusetts adopted its Ocean Management Plan in an attempt to accomplish that purpose. And in 2011, Rhode Island culminated an ambitious effort – the development of an Ocean Special Area Management Plan, or Ocean SAMP – that was approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the first such state plan to be deemed enforceable in federal waters.

Jennifer McCann, director of the U.S. Coastal Program at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center (which facilitated the Ocean SAMP project) and director of the extension at Rhode Island Sea Grant, dates the origin of the Ocean SAMP to 2007. That was when Governor Donald Carcieri and the state’s Office of Energy Resources decided that development of offshore renewable energy siting could provide an important step toward the state’s goal of deriving 16 percent of its electrical power from the state’s own renewable sources by 2019. The governor, she recalled, also saw offshore wind as a desirable new job-creating industry.

The Ocean SAMP is akin to a zoning document, the result of an “ecosystem-based” study of all ocean populations and uses to identify the best locations for offshore wind facilities.

“With the Ocean SAMP, the state of Rhode Island decided that we were going to be in the driver’s seat, that we were going to tell the developer where the wind turbine should be,” McCann says. “It was a two-year process and the idea was to determine if there is a place for renewable energy in our offshore waters and, if so, how is that maintained?”

 

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