NORTH KINGSTOWN – As Gov. Dan McKee looked on, construction workers lugged chunks of asphalt away from a big hole they've dug in the ground in the Quonset Business Park.
It may not have seemed like much, but the scene on Thursday was evidence of the progress that developers are already making on Rhode Island’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm.
So McKee took the opportunity to get an up-close look at some of the onshore excavation work to make way for the transmission cable that will run from an electrical substation in the state-owned business park to the 65-turbine project known as Revolution Wind, which will be built about 15 miles south of Little Compton.
“Wind is the future of our state. It’s our energy source,” said McKee, who was flanked by union leaders and executives from Ørsted and Eversource, the energy companies partnering on the wind farm.
Revolution Wind is making progress, but offshore wind's future is complicated
The event couldn’t have come at a more complicated time for the offshore wind industry. On the one hand, the first two large offshore wind projects in the nation are in construction in the waters off Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
On the other, a series of projects that were set to follow in their footsteps have run into dire straits, victims of inflation and supply chain problems. Just two weeks ago, Ørsted, the Danish company that is the world’s leading offshore wind developer, dropped plans for a pair of proposals off the New Jersey coast, writing off $4 billion in costs.
But on the same day, the company recommitted to its joint venture with Eversource, a New England utility, to develop Revolution Wind, which with a capacity of 704 megawatts would supply enough power for 350,000 homes. The majority of its production would go to Rhode Island electric customers, while Connecticut users would get the rest.
Ørsted owns the Block Island Wind Farm, the five-turbine test project in Rhode Island state waters that in 2016 became America’s inaugural offshore wind farm. The Revolution project builds on the company’s existing investments in the state, said Troy Patton, head of program execution, Americas, for Ørsted.
“We’re doubling down on that commitment with Revolution Wind,” he said.
Transmission system is getting an upgrade
After a key approval came through from the federal government this past summer, the joint venture started work on the land portion of the cable route. The cable is set to run from the wind farm in Rhode Island Sound, up Narragansett Bay to the south end of Quonset.
Crews there used a horizontal directional drill to clear a path deep underground for the cable to make landfall. And now they’re building the conduit under roads in the business park along the mile-long path connecting the landfall point to the site of an existing substation that Eversource will rebuild for the project.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island Energy, which owns the power grid in the state, is spending $125 million to upgrade the transmission system around the substation to help facilitate the delivery of power from the wind farm, which is expected to be completed in 2025. It’s part of a $2-billion investment the company is planning to bring more renewables into the grid and modernize the electric system, said its president Dave Bonenberger.
Rhode Island Energy is also soliciting proposals for up to another 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind as part of a process that’s being coordinated with Connecticut and Massachusetts. After a previous solicitation resulted in the company rejecting a second phase of the Revolution project because of its high costs, policymakers are hoping that economies of scale resulting from the regional approach will lead to more affordable prices.
Asked if he’s worried about the escalating prices for offshore wind, McKee said he wants to see what comes out of the process. He pointed to the state’s bet on the Block Island Wind Farm. The project is costing ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars, but it helped lead to Revolution Wind, which is projected to lead to net savings. He said the state shouldn’t stop exploring offshore wind options.
“If we took that position a few years back, we wouldn’t be here today talking about electrifying over a couple hundred thousand homes in the state of Rhode Island at price points that are going to help improve energy costs,” McKee said.