Within five years, Rhode Island's horizon will be unmistakably altered to any beachgoer, fisherman or waterfront homeowner gazing out to sea, and the coastal Atlantic from Martha's Vineyard to Long Island will be dotted with wind turbines arranged in orderly grids like trees in an orchard.
They will appear small in perspective, and tower in reality over the men and women who go out on boats to service them, the blades rotating to the height of an 80-story building, 873 feet high at the peak of every electricity-generating revolution.
The Revolution Wind lease, located approximately 15 miles south of Little Compton's coastline, is the closest to Rhode Island of 10 offshore wind farms currently being developed in a huge tract of southern New England's coastal waters.
It is one of three leases being developed by a joint venture partnership between Danish energy giant Ørsted, which headquarters its American offshore wind operations in Providence, and American utility company Eversource, which prior to this offshore wind partnership has operated in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
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Visual simulations done by Revolution Wind as part of its federal review process with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) indicate many of its proposed 100 turbines will be visible from some of Rhode Island's most popular coastal destinations, including Newport's Ocean Drive and Bellevue Historic Districts, Sachuest Point in Middletown and Little Compton's South Shore Beach and Goosewing Preserve.
The BOEM's recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project also indicated the view from much of Newport County's scenic and historic coastline would be inevitably altered by the turbines, listing The Breakers, Marble House and Rosecliff in Newport, Horsehead/Marbella in Jamestown, and Stone House Inn in Little Compton among historic properties that would be adversely affected by the altered ocean view.
"The simulations are a good representation of the most conservative conditions," Revolution Wind project development director Kellen Ingalls told The Daily News. "If we build all 100, this (map on page 86 of the Visual Impact Assessment) is where you will be able to see them from shore."
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"Ørsted did the first offshore wind farm over in Denmark … You can see where things have gone from there. When you look around and see lots of wind farms, and some of the turbines are right up on the shore, it has clearly become an accepted part of the world," said Ingalls, who sometimes travels to Denmark for work.
"That's where people are getting their energy from, and they're OK with seeing it," he continued. "My experience is there's that apprehension at first, and then once you see that it's not as terrible as you imagined, it gets a lot easier from there."
Other New England communities have been remunerated for the alterations to their natural views — The Daily News previously reported on Nantucket and Block Island reaching substantial financial mitigation agreements with offshore wind developers. The city of Newport has hired Cultural Heritage Partners of Richmond, Virginia, the law firm that helped Nantucket and Block Island secure their agreements.
Although Ingalls and other Revolution Wind representatives declined to comment on the possibility of any future financial mitigation agreements with municipalities in Newport County, he acknowledged Ørsted does own the five-turbine Block Island wind farm.
Block Island was reportedly compensated $2.5 million for the visual effects of that farm, or $500,000 per turbine.
As residents of Portsmouth consider the prospect of a transmission cable landing at Island Park on the way from the Mayflower Wind project off the coast of Martha's Vineyard to Somerset's Brayton Point, and as Newport and Little Compton residents face the impending reality of the first 100 massive wind turbines being built in the midst of their ocean view, it may be worth reframing these seemingly separate phenomena as parts of a comprehensive economic whole, local evidence of an absolutely massive state, regional and national shift toward renewable energy that has been years in the making.
Spokesperson Meaghan Wims said when operating at full capacity, Revolution Wind will provide 704 megawatts of renewable energy to Rhode Island and Connecticut, enough to provide electricity for 350,000 households across the two states. Rhode Island will receive 400 megawatts, and Connecticut will receive 304. The project will be the first utility scale wind farm in Rhode Island.
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The Block Island wind farm, originally Deepwater Wind, was the first of its kind in the United States when it started operating in 2016, and it was actually born from a proposal made by then-Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri in 2006.
In 2021, the state set ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. There are now 10 offshore wind farms that aim to be up and running before the end of 2030.
Six of them will be visible from much of Rhode Island's coastline, a new and constant reminder to Ocean State residents their view and the society around it are both changing with the times.
Mayflower Wind will base its service fleet out of Fall River, Massachusetts, and Revolution Wind will be running its service fleet out of Quonset. Revolution already has ships being manufactured at Quonset Point and at Blount Shipyard in Warren, and intends to base service helicopters at Quonset.
Some of its turbine components, such as the concrete foundations, will be built at the Port of Providence, and Ørsted and Eversource have committed $40 million to improvements at ProvPort.
The joint venture also has committed $4.5 million to support education, workforce training, and supply chain development in Rhode Island, including the development of the state's first Global Wind Organization (GWO) training certificate program at the Community College of Rhode Island.
GWO training — the international standard for offshore wind safety training — provides safety training for workers engaged in offshore wind farm construction and operations.
As the nation's smallest state positions itself as one of the biggest innovators in renewable wind energy, sitting at the cutting edge of what is already a multi-billion dollar economic effort to transform public utility grids, residents of Rhode Island — and especially Newport County's coastal communities — will continue to witness Rhode Island's power supply, economy and natural landscape transforming right in front of their eyes.
If the permitting process goes according to plan, Revolution Wind's 100 turbines will be up and running by 2025, with hundreds more to follow.