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Rhode Island aids US offshore momentum, developers say

EXCLUSIVE | Nine hundred megawatts may not sound like much in the sweep of the 82GW US wind fleet, but offshore wind developers say a new renewables target established by the state of Rhode Island offers another important near-term pathway to growth as the offshore market scales up in the northeastern US.

Two weeks ago Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced a statewide “strategic” clean-energy target of 1GW by 2020. Rhode Island currently has just 100MW of such capacity online, including the nation’s first offshore wind farm – Deepwater Wind’s 30MW Block Island – as well as things like distributed solar and landfill gas facilities.

By far the smallest US state, Rhode Island’s options for adding more in-state renewables capacity are severely limited. Raimondo says the state will pursue a “broad portfolio” of technologies – specifically citing offshore and onshore wind, and solar.

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It’s offshore, however, where Rhode Island could be most useful to the US renewables industry, layering more demand onto the sizable markets already taking shape in Massachusetts and New York. Massachusetts has directed its utilities to procure 1.6GW of offshore wind by 2027, and New York has signaled it will buy 2.4GW by 2030.

“Rhode Island has the potential to be a very desirable location for a utility-scale offshore wind project,” Thomas Brostrøm, Dong Energy’s general manager for North America, tells Recharge. “We believe offshore wind could play a big role in meeting the [1GW] milestone.”

Dong’s Bay State offshore wind zone has the potential to sell power into several northeastern states, including Rhode Island.

Offshore wind is also the option likely to add the most to Rhode Island’s own economy – with the state having already tasted some of the industry’s benefits first hand thanks to onshore work done for the Block Island wind farm in Quonset and Providence.

Robert Beadle, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, tells Recharge an existing state programme – the Long-Term Contracting Standard for Renewable Energy – offers the possibility of contracting 150MW of offshore wind capacity in the near term.

While the state is “not able to speculate” as to which renewables technologies will meet the “ambitious but achievable” 1GW goal, Block Island is proof that Rhode Island “has the potential to develop renewables at scale”, Beadle says.

Three giant offshore wind zones are currently under development to the southeast of Rhode Island’s coastline, and the federal US government last week announced it has started the process of launching a new competitive auction for two more big zones in the region.

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The closest of all these zones to Rhode Island’s coastline is Deepwater’s “One” project, capable of holding more than 1GW of future capacity. “We’re confident that under Governor Raimondo’s leadership offshore wind will continue to play a major role in [Rhode Island’s] energy future,” Deepwater chief executive Jeffrey Grybowski tells Recharge.

In any scenario, offshore developers would have to move very quickly to get a slice of Rhode Island’s 1GW target. They will find themselves competing not only against in-state distributed solar but also onshore wind and hydro that can be imported from around the eastern US and Canada.

The 1GW target will likely be met “through a combination of in-state and regionally-based clean energy activities”, Beadle confirms.

“All options are under consideration if they will add more affordable, reliable clean energy,” he says, adding Rhode Island continues to “watch with interest how the evolution of [the offshore wind] industry will lower prices”.