Rhode Island Senate Passes Bill for 600 MW of New Offshore Wind Capacity

The Rhode Island State Senate has approved the state’s new bill that facilitates procurement of further 600 MW of offshore wind capacity and removes incentives to which utilities are entitled under the existing law for signing long-term contracts with newly developed renewable energy projects.

The bill (S 2583A), sponsored by Senator Dawn Euer at the request of Governor Daniel McKee, now heads to the House of Representatives, where Representative Arthur Handy is sponsoring it under its House reference H 7971.

As reported earlier this week, the bill amends the existing law and has seen several amendments itself since it was first introduced, with the final amended version now sent before the House of Representatives being its “Substitute A”.

The amended bill sets a new procurement deadline, from the initially planned 15 August 2022 to 15 October of this year, and removes an incentive to utilities that would have required ratepayers to absorb an annual incentive equal to 2 per cent of the value of a contract with a renewable energy project. The 2 per cent incentive was originally proposed for contracts until 2027 as a reduction from the 2.75 per cent in the existing law.

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The State Senate received the bill on 1 June from the Committee on Environment & Agriculture, which recommended indefinite postponement of the original bill and passage of Substitute A.

The amendment also allows the Public Utilities Commission greater authority to decide on disputed items in the contract between the utility and the developer.

The legislation requires the applications for new development to be publicly transparent, comply with labour standards and create a diversity, equity and inclusion plan that, at a minimum, addresses access to employment and vendor opportunities for historically marginalised communities, according to a press release from the Rhode Island General Assembly on 7 June.

The bill would also require offshore wind developers to provide information on potential environmental impacts through the submittal of an environmental and fisheries mitigation plan; and estimates of local economic benefits.

Any proposed offshore wind contract would require review by the Office of Energy Resources, the Department of Environmental Management, and Rhode Island Commerce in the form of agency advisory opinions. Such contracts would have to be filed with the Public Utilities Commission for review and approval.

Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee announced the new legislation on 23 March, saying the state’s primary utility company – now named Rhode Island Energy after its recent sale from National Grid to PPL – would be required to issue a new procurement for approximately 600 MW of newly developed offshore wind capacity.

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The additional 600 MW of offshore wind would further expand the state’s clean energy portfolio, with the potential to meet 30 per cent of Rhode Island’s estimated 2030 electricity demand – equivalent to powering roughly 340,000 homes each year.

Including the 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, the first US offshore wind farm, and the 400 MW Revolution Wind project which got the state approval in 2019, offshore wind would cover 50 per cent of the state’s projected energy needs, according to the press release from the Governor’s office in March.

“When we enacted the Act on Climate last year, Rhode Island made a historically firm, enforceable commitment to rapidly adopt renewable energy and get serious about our climate obligations. Projects like the one we’re seeking with this legislation are an important part of our energy future. I’m glad to see the level of support there is for a major project like this one, because it will be a major step toward responsibly developed renewable energy in Rhode Island”, said Senator Dawn Euer, who also sponsored the Act on Climate that sets mandatory, enforceable climate emissions reduction goals culminating in net-zero economy-wide emissions by 2050.

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Photo: Illustration; Block Island Wind Farm. Source: Deepwater Wind / Ørsted (archive)