Wind power is about to take flight in New England. Massachusetts has long been preparing to build the nation’s first offshore wind plant near Cape Cod, but plans have been held up by protests from the area’s Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Now, the New York Times reports that Rhode Island has forged ahead with its own plans to convert some of the state’s power source to wind. They aim to outpace and outsource their neighbor to the north, which has created a wind-power rivalry between the two states.
Rhode Island has invested more than $8 million of the state’s money on research on birds, fish, habitats and fisherman’s requirements, as well as areas important to Indian tribes. This is a marked departure from Massachusetts’s plan, which has put the state’s wind program in the hands of a private investor, Cape Wind.
Rhode Island is looking at a 300-miles swath of coastline just off the state. There are two potential offshore wind sites for Rhode Island: a $200 million, eight-turbine project off Block Island, and a $1.5 billion farm in the eastern Rhode Island Sound. While it has yet to secure permits, Rhode Island had acquired an agreement with a utility company to “power purchase” from what the Block Island wind farm generates. However, this week the state’s utility commission rejected the agreement as too costly.
These power purchases had been essential to Rhode Island’s quest for wind power. The rejection has given Massachusetts a leg up in the race, but securing the final permits has proven difficult for Boston. As reported, Massachusetts’s Cape Wind has initiated battles between coastal Indian tribes, business interests and landowners. Still, the state is hopeful. Ian Bowles is Massachusetts’s secretary of energy and environment. As he told the NY Times, “We’ve been through all the state permits and we’re awaiting the final permits.”
Rhode Island is not deterred. The NY Times reports that a wind farm proposed in Rhode Island Sound could generate 1.3 million megawatt hours of energy a year, light up 125,000 homes and create more than 600 jobs. Meanwhile, other states have joined the search. Experts note that Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York and Virginia have joined the search for clean wind power.
Nonetheless, the competition between Massachusetts and Rhode Island remains heated. Scott McWilliams is a University of Rhode Island ecologist who has studied the migration patterns of birds for the project. As he told the NY Times, “There’s definitely a rivalry in getting something in the ground first.”
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