Getting on Board with Offshore Wind: A Reality in Rhode Island | Conservation Law Foundation

Getting on Board with Offshore Wind: A Reality in Rhode Island

Tricia Jedele

I am proud to announce that construction on the nation’s first offshore wind farm is officially underway in Rhode Island!

Today, incoming Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell and I have the honor to be a part of history in the making. We’re going to be boarding a ferry out to the Deepwater Wind project site with United States Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Director for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Abigail Ross Hopper, our congressional delegation, Rhode Island state and local leaders, and many of our environmental colleagues. Together, we will be celebrating a landmark project years in the making and the ocean management plan that made it possible.

Deepwater Wind’s five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind project, located almost three miles off of the coast of Block Island, is the result of a multi-year ocean planning process that involved listening, learning, trust-building and negotiation – along with a fair share of disagreement and frustration. While the project itself will be celebrated today, as it should be, it is the long and winding road that brought us to this point that is the remarkable success story.

Ocean planning in action

At its core, ocean planning is about effectively managing the potential conflicts between the many ways we use our ocean – like fishing, boating, and energy projects – and the long-term health of our ocean wildlife and habitats.

In 2011, Rhode Island approved a comprehensive ocean plan, which, among other things, identified a specific area for offshore wind development in state waters. By design, the plan — officially called the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, or SAMP — relied on data and science to establish the policies that protect habitat and inform permitting decisions. The plan relied on robust stakeholder conversation and comment to guide its content. The result was an ocean plan that had the support of the stakeholder community and made for a more straightforward permitting process for projects like Deepwater Wind.

CLF milestones

Witnessing an offshore wind project begin construction thanks to a robust ocean planning process is also witnessing Conservation Law Foundation’s successful vision and advocacy unfold in the waters of Block Island Sound. Active and ever-present in the development of the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan and Massachusetts’ Ocean Plan, CLF has been a long-term advocate for smart, science-based, stakeholder-engaged ocean planning that can facilitate the development of offshore wind in the United States.

Beyond the success of our advocacy for smart and effective ocean planning, the Deepwater Wind project also laid the path for landmark wildlife protections. In 2014, CLF, the National Resources Defense Council, and the National Wildlife Foundation worked with Deepwater Wind to develop a set of protective measures that minimized potential impacts of its pre-construction activities on the North Atlantic Right Whale, a local endangered species. That agreement lays a critical foundation for future offshore wind projects in New England and elsewhere in how to balance the needs of our precious ocean wildlife with those of the renewable energy industry.

Offshore Wind

Photo courtesy BOEM

All told, the Deepwater Wind project serves as an excellent example of the success that comes from collaborative, data-driven ocean planning.

It is wonderful symbolism that Brad and I will be “on board” a vessel, being ferried to the first-ever offshore wind project in the United States, all as the result of an ocean planning process that brought a diverse group of stakeholders on board with the idea that we can respond to climate change with an offshore wind project, while protecting fisheries, habitats, and other important ocean uses.

Before you go… CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.

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