State officials to vote Tuesday on Vineyard Wind project

RHODE ISLAND COMMERCIAL FISHING INTERESTS stand to receive funds under a compensation package negotiated as part of Vineyard Wind's proposed offshore wind energy turbine farm./PBN FILE PHOTO/JOHN LEE

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council is scheduled Tuesday to vote whether Vineyard Wind’s proposed 84-turbine offshore wind energy farm – the first large-scale project of its kind in the nation – is consistent with state policy.

The council’s decision – called a federal consistency determination – is needed as part of the federal permitting process.

Much of the vote is expected to rest on a newly agreed upon $16.7 million “financial mitigation package” between New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind and the Rhode Island Fisheries Advisory Board to provide compensation for anticipated impacts of the project on the state’s commercial fishing businesses.

The agreement calls for Vineyard Wind to provide $4.2 million to be held in escrow as a “direct compensation fund” for claims of direct impacts to Rhode Island vessels and Rhode Island fisheries in the project area.

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It calls for Vineyard Wind to make an initial $1 million payment, followed by annual payments over 29 years totaling $3.2 million, starting with $76,000 and escalating 2.5 percent a year, according to a copy of the agreement obtained Monday by the Providence Business News.

It calls for the escrow to be administered by a third party selected by Vineyard Wind in consultation with the CRMC and the Fisheries Advisory Board.

In addition, the agreement calls for the creation of a nonprofit Rhode Island Fishermen’s Future Viability Trust, and for Vineyard Wind to pay $12.5 million into the trust, spread out over five annual payments of $2.5 million. It also calls for Vineyard Wind to pay for legal costs up to $50,000 to set up the trust.

The purpose of the trust is to follow the CRMC’s policies for the “continued viability and success of Rhode Island’s fishing industry by providing funds to address concerns raised about safety and effective fishing in and around the Vineyard Wind project area and wind farms generally,” the agreement states.

Signed by Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen and CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate, the agreement is contingent on the council’s federal consistency determination, as well as Vineyard Wind achieving a “financial close” for the project, expected late this year.

The $16.7 million is well below compensation figures recently on the negotiating table, according to Chris Brown, a Fisheries Advisory Board member who has been closely involved in talks with Vineyard Wind. Brown, who also serves as president of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association, could not be reached Monday for comment about the new figures.

The new figures “may appear smaller, but according to Vineyard Wind, they are actually larger than the original figure that was offered at the beginning of negotiations,” CRMC spokeswoman Laura Dwyer explained in an email. “This has something to do with today’s dollars versus dollars 30 years from now and some discount rate that we have not seen.”

Richard Fuka, president of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance, said he plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting to speak out against the agreement, as he has felt the compensation figures are much too low. In addition, Fuka said, the agreement would give Vineyard Wind too much control over the funds.

A representative for the National Wildlife Federation also was planning to attend the meeting. Vineyard Wind and the federation have announced a separate agreement to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Tuesday’s council meeting is open to the public. It is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at the Corless Auditorium at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus on South Ferry Road in Narragansett.

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com