Rhode Island Locals Sue to Block Offshore Wind Turbine Project

‘Someone at a very high level had made the decision that the project was going to get permitted, no matter what the impacts were.’
Rhode Island Locals Sue to Block Offshore Wind Turbine Project
File photo: Wind turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm tower over the water off the shores of Block Island, R.I., on Oct. 14, 2016. (Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)
Donna Andersen
12/3/2023
Updated:
12/4/2023
0:00

A group of Rhode Island homeowners, fishermen, and historic properties board members are set to face off against the state and Danish ocean wind giant Orsted in Newport County Superior Court on Dec. 5.

Local group Green Oceans opposes the construction of Revolution Wind, an ocean wind farm with 65 turbines planned for Rhode Island Sound, 10 miles southeast of Block Island.

The group filed suit against the state’s Coastal Management Resources Council (CRMC), claiming that when it approved the Revolution Wind project on May 12, the council abdicated its responsibilities and violated its own policies and procedures.

“This case is about a massive offshore wind project that will ruin vital coastal resources and permanently harm Rhode Island’s marine economy and the CRMC, which, against law and fact, rubber-stamped the project,” the lawsuit reads.

Crucial Marine Habitat

The Revolution Wind project, along with adjacent wind farms such as South Fork Wind and Sunrise Wind, are sited on top of a geological formation called Coxes Ledge. This is an underwater terminal glacial moraine, where boulders and gravel were left at the end of a glacier’s movement.

“The terminal glacier moraine creates a greater variety of terrain on the seabed, which supports diverse marine life,” Bill Thompson, co-founder of Green Oceans, told The Epoch Times. “There’s a lot of fish activity and multiple species. For the Southern New England Atlantic cod, it’s one of the few remaining spawning grounds.”

The cod might suffer extinction under the current plan to develop the region around Coxes Ledge, Green Oceans stated in a white paper. In the case of the South Fork Wind project, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned of a “high risk of population-level impacts on Southern New England Atlantic cod.”

“It’s the equivalent of a coral reef that they’re building on, with that kind of fecundity,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s the worst place you could possibly site industrial development.”

State Approval

Permits to build offshore wind farms are issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. According to federal law, state approval of a coastal project is a prerequisite for federal approval. This is called a consistency review—the state must determine that an ocean project is consistent with its own environmental regulations.

Rhode Island has comprehensive regulations for coastal development under the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP). Richard Hittinger, an oceanographer, former environmental consultant, and avid fisherman, was involved in writing the chapter on fisheries.

“I’m rod and reel,” he told The Epoch Times. “I fish for tuna, mahi, shark, codfish, black sea bass, striped bass—the whole range of various fish.”

The Rhode Island CMRC adopted the ocean management plan in 2010.

“I thought it was a really good process,” Mr. Hittinger said. “It was very rewarding to know that we put something together that was basically renowned across the country.”

‘The Project Was Going to Get Permitted’

Mr. Hittinger was also a member of the Rhode Island Fisherman’s Advisory Board. The board provided input to the CMRC during the review of Block Island, the state’s first offshore wind farm, with five turbines, owned by Orsted. He then worked on the first industrial-scale wind farm, with 62 turbines, Vineyard Wind, owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and multinational company Avangrid Renewables. He said the permitting processes were difficult but that everyone came to a resolution.

The next project, with 12 turbines, was the South Fork wind farm. South Fork is a 50-50 venture between Orsted and Eversource, New England’s largest energy company.

“That was the first wind farm where it didn’t matter,” Mr. Hittinger told The Epoch Times. “We didn’t need to agree, because someone at a very high level had made the decision that the project was going to get permitted, no matter what the impacts were. It just didn’t matter.”

South Fork Wind (SFW) is located in the same area as Revolution Wind, 10 miles southeast of Block Island, on top of Coxes Ledge. In its review, CMRC staff recognized that this was a problem.

“The location of the SFW project on Coxes Ledge, an area known for its biological diversity, is in our view one of the worst possible locations for this project,” the review reads.

Still, the CMRC issued its federal consistency decision on July 1, 2021, approving South Fork Wind.

The process for Revolution Wind, also developed by Orsted, was just as bad, according to Mr. Hittinger.

“They just knew that they did not have to pay any attention to us,” he told The Epoch Times. “So they walked all over us. They did whatever they wanted.”

The Review

In its federal consistency review of the Revolution Wind Farm (RWF) project, the CRMC staff noted multiple potential adverse effects. The report anticipated major adverse incremental and overall cumulative effects for Rhode Island-based commercial and recreational fishers. RFW estimated 50 percent losses to the fishing sector during construction and 5 percent losses annually over 28 years of operation.

The project would negatively affect fish markets, bait and gear sales, boat repairs, hotels, restaurants, fuel, and travel.

“Industries like hotels may survive a decline in fishing effort, but specialized companies like those that produce ice for commercial fishing orders may no longer be economically viable,” the report reads.

Wind turbine interference with vessel radar may increase the risk of collision within the wind farms. The potential for any vessel to enter the area in inclement weather added to the risk of human mortality that currently doesn’t exist.

Reduced wind speed in the lee of the wind turbines can affect fundamental ocean ecosystems. Fish larva distribution could be affected by changes in hydrodynamics, which could have a long-term effect on commercial fish species.

Wind turbine foundations could alter the distribution of zooplankton, which would affect the prey availability for some marine mammals.

“The location of the RWF project on Coxes Ledge, an area known for its biological diversity, is a particularly risky location for a large-scale offshore wind farm,” the report reads.

It anticipated that effects on Coxes Ledge would extend beyond the life of the project.

Rhode Island law requires that the CRMC determine whether a project is beneficial to the state. The report on Revolution Wind states that “it is unclear whether there will be an overall net benefit to the Rhode Island marine economic sector from the project or if there is an overall net loss.”

Hearings

The CRMC held public hearings on Revolution Wind on April 25 and May 9. So many people wanted to speak that each hearing went on for more than five hours.

Some people were in favor of the wind farm, Mr. Hittinger told The Epoch Times, but there was an overwhelming number of comments about the potential negative effects of the project.

“At the end, the CMRC, the council themselves, they just decided to issue the permit,” he said.

The Bureau of Ocean Management approved the Revolution Wind final environmental impact statement on Aug. 21.

Ten days later, all nine members of the Rhode Island Fisherman’s Advisory Board resigned.

“The Ocean SAMP process has been reduced to mere political theater, to which we refuse to lend any further credence by our presence,” they wrote.

Green Oceans Lawsuit

In its lawsuit against the CRMC, Green Oceans contends that the council failed to properly analyze the effects of the Revolution Wind project.

“The Decision lacks findings of fact and conclusions of law required by the administrative regulations,” the complaint reads. “Further, the CRMC recognized the devastating effects the Project would have on Rhode Island’s coastal resources and economy but, in violation of the Ocean SAMP, approved it anyway.”

CRMC and Revolution Wind filed a motion to dismiss the Green Oceans lawsuit essentially on technicalities, Robert W. Stetson, the Green Oceans attorney, told The Epoch Times. They argue that the case is moot because the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management already approved the project and because Green Oceans has no standing to pursue it.

“We, of course, disagree,” Mr. Thompson told The Epoch Times. “We wouldn’t have filed the case if we didn’t think we had standing or a legitimate claim.

“One of the things that’s hard for people to understand and accept is that we view ourselves as environmentalists. None of us are climate deniers. None of us have a vested interest in fossil fuel. This isn’t NIMBY (not in my back yard).”

On its website, Green Oceans pointed out that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s final environmental impact statement for Vineyard Wind states, “There would be no collective impact on global warming as a result of offshore wind projects.”

“There’s such a strong belief that offshore wind can help mitigate climate change, because you look at it, and it looks clean and free, and there’s no smoke except when they catch on fire,” Mr. Thompson said. “The image of offshore wind is tough to fight. But they have a massive carbon footprint, and they’re not going to do anything to mitigate climate change.”

Donna Andersen is a New Jersey-based freelance writer covering regional news. She is also author of Lovefraud.com, a website that teaches people to recognize and recover from sociopaths, author of eight books about sociopaths, and host of the “True Lovefraud Stories” podcast.