R.I. Senate unanimously approves offshore wind procurement bill

PROVIDENCE – When PPL Corp. took ownership of Rhode Island’s primary gas and electric operations, company leaders pledged to help advance the state’s ambitious renewable energy goals. 

They may be asked to prove that commitment sooner than anticipated, with legislation passing the state Senate on Tuesday that requires the utility business to buy another 600 megawatts of offshore wind power. The unanimous vote came swiftly and without discussion, signaling the chamber’s support for the plan to advance state decarbonization mandates and solidify its foothold in the burgeoning offshore wind industry.

“What this is really going to do is allow Rhode Island to stake its claim and provide leadership for responsibly developed offshore wind,” said Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, who introduced the bill on behalf of Gov. Daniel J. McKee.

The legislation gives PPL Corp., the owner of the newly renamed Rhode Island Energy, until Oct. 15 to publish a solicitation seeking to buy another 600 megawatts worth of offshore wind. Added to the state’s existing array of renewable energy sources, the massive power boost would enable the state to meet 80% of its current electricity needs from renewable sources. It would also put Rhode Island well on its way to the goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030, a benchmark set under a separate bill that has already passed in the RI Senate.

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McKee has also highlighted the bill’s significance in keeping the Ocean State in the forefront of the offshore wind industry while stimulating the local economy with an unspecified amount of new jobs.

The legislation passed by the Senate was tweaked by the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture, pushing back the procurement deadline and eliminating an incentive for the utility company equal to 2% of a signed contract – a cost which would have been passed on to ratepayers.

Former utility operator National Grid balked at the prospect of losing that payment, which it received for the Block Island Wind Farm but not for the subsequent Revolution Wind Farm. And PPL Corp. appears to share the same objections.

“Taking on such a large procurement of energy for our customers with a long-term commitment well before the project comes to fruition does carry risks,” Ted Kresse, a spokesman for Rhode Island Energy, said in emailed statement on Tuesday. “In the days ahead, we look forward to continuing discussions with legislators about how we can better balance these risks between the developer(s) and Rhode Island Energy, while still protecting customers.”

McKee is still backing the amended bill and offered thanks to the sponsors for “protecting ratepayer interests while advancing clean, renewable energy in the Ocean State,” according to an emailed statement on Tuesday from spokesperson Alana O’Hare.

The House companion legislation remains in the House Corporations Committee and has not undergone the same amendments.

The legislation also sets standards around labor, and requires environmental and economic impact studies for any new offshore wind projects. Any proposed contracts require review and approval by the R.I. Public Utilities Commission.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.