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Block Island Wind Farm Advances to be First in RI, First in Nation

Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind celebrates a moment of victory with DWW counsel, Robin L. Maine on Tuesday night.  (Photo Tracey C. O'Neill/Freelance Photographer)

Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind celebrates a moment of victory with DWW counsel, Robin L. Main on Tuesday night.
(Photo Tracey C. O’Neill/Freelance Photographer)

Providence, RI – In a unanimous vote on Tuesday evening, the Coastal Resources Management Council adopted and approved subcommittee recommendations advancing  Deepwater Wind‘s 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm to design and development phase.

An unprecedented project, the five turbine demonstration project wind farm is slated to be the first offshore wind farm built in Rhode Island territorial waters and the very first offshore wind farm in the U.S. “It’s a momentous night for Rhode Island,”  said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind. “[Rhode Island] is going to be the first.”

Passing what Grybowski called “a critical stage” in the permitting process, the renewable energy project also received the go ahead from the state Department of Environmental Management, who on May 8 issued required water quality permits and a Freshwater Wetlands permit for onshore activities.

According to Ronald Gagnon, DEM’s Chief, Office of Technical and Customer Assistance, Deepwater’s receipt of the DEM permits was a step in satisfying the CRMC stipulation for acquiring all necessary state project permitting. The DEM permitting further allowed for the landing of the projects underwater transmission cable at Scarborough State Beach. The subterranean cable is planned for burial in a location on the state property where a current utility easement exists.

Applause, handshakes and congratulations

Upon receiving the vote among a chorus of ayes, with nary a nay uttered, the hearing room on Capitol Hill broke into applause and an immediate cacophony of congratulations. Absorbing the news in what was clearly a celebratory atmosphere, Grybowski took the time to personally thank each member of the full council, some who had been involved in the process since its inception and had also worked on developing the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OSAMP).

“What’s next?” he asked when questioned as to the company’s immediate plans. “The federal permits are next. Securing the federal permits and then it’s the federal leases.”

Permitting and approval from the Army Corp of Engineers and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are required for the project to move forward through completion. Grybowski said he expects the federal permitting process to move smoothly.

CRMC partnered with federal agencies, DWW

CRMC members listen as Tony Affigne describes the process leading up to the evening's vote.  (Photo Tracey C. O'Neill/Freelance Photographer)

CRMC members listen as Tony Affigne describes the process leading up to the evening’s vote. (L to R) Vice Chair Paul Lemont, Brian Goldman Legal Counsel, CRMC Chair Anne Maxwell Livingston, Executive Director Grover Fugate
(Photo Tracey C. O’Neill/Freelance Photographer)

Although Tuesday night’s unanimous vote was a critical step in the process with CRMC, the coastal regulatory agency will be involved going forward and through fruition due to the project’s planned location in Rhode Island territorial waters. CRMC oversight will ensure that the state remains a key player during the project’s final design, implementation and completion.

“We’re the only ones doing this type of work,” said Grover Fugate, Executive Director. “We’re partnering with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to help us do this review. Obviously they are engaged in the federal waters in the same type of review and same type of project. There will be a partnership between the federal and sate government on that.”

Environmental concerns overcome

In the room were representatives of several environmental concerns, including Tricia Jedele, Vice President and Director of the Rhode Island Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Catherine Bowes of the National Wildlife Foundation. Both environmental groups worked closely with Deepwater Wind to protect the interests of marine mammals, wildlife and their natural habitats in development of the renewable energy project. In December 2012 a precedential partnership between Deepwater Wind, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Conservation Law Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation, and other renewable energy concerns forged an agreement protective of endangered whale species during construction of offshore wind farms.

The agreement, that specifically provides protections for the North Atlantic Right Whale, was modified on May 7, 2014 to implement additional protections during  pre-construction activities for the Deepwater ONE offshore wind farm. In a press release, Jedele spoke to the benefits of the partnership.

“By working with CLF and our partners to protect North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals, Deepwater Wind shows that offshore wind can achieve its potential to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels while maintaining great sensitivity to our important natural resources,” said Jedele. “We are proud to partner with Deepwater Wind, NWF and NRDC to come to this significant agreement, and hope our collective work will be replicated nationally to help bring the economic and environmental benefits of clean, renewable offshore wind power to communities throughout the U.S. without compromising vulnerable marine animals.”

Tuesday’s vote of the full council came after the (OSAMP) sub-committee, in April,  recommended approval of Deepwater Wind’s applications, setting forth multiple stipulations that the company agreed to implement and abide by.

“We’re very pleased that the vote was unanimous,” said Anne Maxwell Livingston, CRMC Chair.  “I feel that environmentalists are very happy about this and I feel that job creating people are happy because it’s a new industry that we want to be in on the ground floor on. I think that’s why everyone is working together so well on this.”

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