Federal officials green-light wind farm off coast of Rhode Island in quest to expand renewable energy

Federal officials are green-lighting plans for a wind farm off the Rhode Island coast as the Biden administration aims to grow renewable energy capacity.

The Wednesday approval out of the Interior and Commerce Departments brings the South Fork wind farm closer to providing enough power for 70,000 homes to Long Island, New York, along an underwater cable. Officials said the developers are still on the hook for other documents including a design report.

The project will be smaller than originally conceived — 12 rather than 15 turbines — and has been adjusted to avoid “high value fishing areas” and shipping lanes.

Not approving the offshore wind farm, officials reasoned, would lead energy developers to construct new power generation in the area that “might be fueled by natural gas, oil, or coal, which would emit more air pollutants and produce greater impacts on air quality in the region in comparison.”

Officials said the decision includes measures to “avoid, minimize, and mitigate potential impacts,” and those requirements were developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including Tribes, state and local officials, industry and ocean users.

But the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, which advocates for fishing interests, said regulators did not account for its concerns by implementing “time of year restrictions for cod spawning, replacements for longstanding biological surveys that will be prevented from operating, or safe navigation corridors.”

RODA Executive Director Annie Hawkins told CNN the project “will generate a small amount of energy and has little to no proven benefit toward mitigating the climate crisis.”

In its mission to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, the Biden administration set a goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the US. The Interior Department previously estimated that reaching that goal would create nearly 80,000 jobs. The South Fork project will produce approximately 130 megawatts, according to a news release.

Officials last week broke ground on the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project off coastal Massachusetts, which is expected to eventually power more than 400,000 homes. The Biden administration has also announced moves towards a large wind power project in the waters between New York and New Jersey, and towards offshore projects along California and the Carolinas.

“Just one year ago, there were no large-scale offshore wind projects approved in the federal waters of the United States,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Today there are two, with several more on the horizon.”

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