R.I., Mass. to coordinate offshore wind energy projects in contiguous waters

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island and Massachusetts announced Monday a pact to coordinate the development of offshore wind farms in waters between the two states. But the three proposed farms currently on the table would be excluded from the agreement.

The memorandum of understanding signed Monday covers 400 square miles of ocean starting 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard and extending 20 miles westward into Rhode Island Sound. Virtually all of the area falls within the scope of a Special Area Management Plan being undertaken by Rhode Island. The report will zone the ocean waters off Rhode Island for their ideal uses, including identifying locations for wind farms.

Under the agreement, Rhode Island will recognize Massachusetts a formal stakeholder in the SAMP process and hold at least two presentations for Bay State residents, including one on Martha’s Vineyard. The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, which is leading the study, is slated to vote on it in October.

And while the agreement provides a role for the Bay State, it excludes the two wind farms proposed by Deepwater Wind. One, off the coast of Block Island, would sit in waters not covered by the agreement. The other could sit in the area, but Massachusetts agreed not to object to the proposal.

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The Cape Wind project proposed in Nantucket Sound also falls outside of the waters covered in the agreement.

While the agreement coordinates the work of the two states, neither has final authority over the area, which falls under federal jurisdiction. Still, the governors from both states hailed the accord.

“The shared waters between Rhode Island and Massachusetts hold the key to the future of offshore wind developments along the East Coast and the country,” Gov. Governor Donald L. Carcieri said. “It is in the best interest for both states to work together to expedite the federal permitting process through this collaborative effort.”

Both states also agreed not to support applications for offshore wind farms submitted to the federal government without the support of both states. And governors from both states extolled the economic benefits of a new industry surrounding offshore wind.

“In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill tragedy, it has become more pressing than ever to make the most of the clean energy potential off our shores,” said Mass. Gov. Deval L. Patrick. “By working together, Gov. Carcieri and I will make our states the hub of our nation’s offshore wind industry, creating jobs and enjoying the environmental benefits of clean, renewable energy.”