• Rhode Island Offshore Transmission Line
  • January 13, 2015 | Author: Todd J. Griset
  • Law Firm: Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios, LLP - Portland Office
  • Federal regulators have granted a right-of-way in federal waters for an electric transmission line connecting to the proposed Block Island offshore wind farm off Rhode Island. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management describes the grant as the first right-of-way grant offered in federal waters for renewable energy transmission.

    Proposed by Deepwater Wind, the Block Island Wind Farm is a 30-megawatt offshore wind farm to be located approximately three miles southeast of Block Island. Located entirely in Rhode Island state waters, the 5-turbine project is expected to generate over 125,000 megawatt hours annually. The project received its final required permit in September 2014, and in 2010 secured a 20-year power purchase agreement with Narragansett Electric Co.

    Block Island is about 13 miles off the mainland coast, and is not connected to the mainland by a power cable or road. While the island's population does consume some electricity, most of the wind farm's power will be exported to the mainland electric grid via a newly built 21-mile submarine cable. Because the proposed Block Island Transmission System is bi-directional, it would also transmit power from the existing onshore transmission grid on the mainland to Block Island, stabilizing supplies of electricity available to islanders.

    The Block Island Transmission System is proposed to make landfall in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Rhode Island's territorial waters extend 3 miles seaward from shore. To reach the mainland, the submerged transmission line must cross about 8 nautical miles of federal waters.

    The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regulates the use of federally controlled Outer Continental Shelf sites for energy production. In 2012, Deepwater Wind applied to the BOEM for a right-of-way about eight nautical miles long and 200 feet wide. Before reviewing this application, BOEM was required to determine whether there are other developers interested in constructing transmission facilities in the same area. Therefore, BOEM published a Commercial Renewable Energy Transmission on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Offshore Rhode Island, Notice of Proposed Grant Area and Request for Competitive Interest (RFCI) in the Area of the Deepwater Wind Block Island Transmission System Proposal in the Federal Register on May 23, 2012 under Docket ID BOEM-2012-0009. BOEM also solicited public comment on site conditions and multiple uses within the right-of-way grant area.

    Following the public comment period, BOEM determined there was no overlapping competitive interest in the proposed right-of-way grant area off Rhode Island and published a "Notice of Determination of No Competitive Interest" in the Federal Register on August 7, 2012 under Docket ID: BOEM-2012-0068.

    Because most of the activities and permanent structures related to the entire wind farm project will be sited in state waters and on state lands, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the lead federal agency for analyzing the potential environmental effects of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act. In September 2014, the Corps completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) for the wind farm and transmission system, and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). BOEM subsequently adopted the Corps EA after conducting an independent review that found no reasonably foreseeable significant impacts are expected to occur as the result of the preferred alternative, or any of the alternatives contemplated by the EA. On October 27, 2014, BOEM issued a FONSI for the issuance of a ROW grant, and approval of the General Activities Plan (GAP), with modifications.

    On November 17, 2014, BOEM announced the agency offered the ROW grant to Deepwater Wind for the Block Island Transmission System.