The state’s highest court has dismissed an appeal by SouthCoast Wind, a joint venture between Shell and Ocean Winds, to resume the permitting process for its offshore wind project. The company had challenged a decision by the state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) to pause the review of its application for a transmission cable that would connect its proposed 2,400-megawatt wind farm to the grid.
EFSB cites financial viability concerns
The EFSB voted unanimously in June 2023 to halt the consideration of SouthCoast Wind’s proposal until the company secures new power purchase agreements (PPAs) for its energy project. The company had terminated its original contracts with Massachusetts utilities, citing increased costs due to the war in Ukraine and inflation. The company said it would rebid the contracts in ongoing offshore wind solicitations in the region, but there is no guarantee that it would be selected again.
The EFSB argued that without PPAs, the project’s financial viability is uncertain and it would be premature to evaluate the merits of the cable proposal, which would run up the Sakonnet River from the wind farm site to a substation in Somerset. The board also noted that the cable would have significant impacts on the environment, public health, and safety of the affected communities.
SouthCoast Wind claims EFSB erred in its decision
SouthCoast Wind filed an appeal with the Rhode Island Supreme Court on July 27, 2023, claiming that the EFSB had erred in its decision and that nothing in state law requires the company to have PPAs in place for its project to be permitted. The company also argued that the board had violated its due process rights by delaying the proceedings indefinitely.
The company said that the cable project is consistent with the state’s coastal policies and that it has reached agreements with the towns of Portsmouth and Tiverton to compensate them for the impacts of the construction. The company also said that the project would create jobs, generate tax revenues, and support the state’s renewable energy goals.
Rhode Island Supreme Court denies the appeal without explanation
On Friday, January 22, 2024, the Rhode Island Supreme Court denied SouthCoast Wind’s petition to have the proceedings resume, offering no explanation for the decision. The court’s order effectively maintains the stay on the permitting process until the company can demonstrate its financial viability.
The court’s ruling is a setback for SouthCoast Wind, which had hoped to start construction of its wind farm by 2025 and begin operations by 2028. The project, which would consist of 147 turbines, would be one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world and would supply enough power for more than one million homes.