Mayflower Wind: ‘People still have a lot of questions’

Wind power reps quizzed by residents at two forums in Portsmouth

By Jim McGaw
Posted 12/15/22

PORTSMOUTH — What will the cables look like? Why come up the Sakonnet River? What’s in it for Portsmouth? Will recreational and commercial fishing be impacted? 

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Mayflower Wind: ‘People still have a lot of questions’

Wind power reps quizzed by residents at two forums in Portsmouth


PORTSMOUTH — What will the cables look like? Why come up the Sakonnet River? What’s in it for Portsmouth? Will recreational and commercial fishing be impacted? 

Those were just a sampling of questions that local residents quizzed representatives from Mayflower Wind SouthCoast Project on during two “drop-in sessions” the developer held last week at the Portsmouth Free Public Library and at Ragged Island Brewing Company.

RELATED: Mayflower Wind asks for continuance of show-cause hearing

Mayflower Wind has an application before the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board to construction major transmission facilities to connect its offshore wind turbines located 30 miles south of Nantucket to the regional transmission system at Brayton Point in Somerset. According to Mayflower Wind, its SouthCoast project would power up to 800,000 homes.

To bring the energy to the shore, cables need to be run through the Sakonnet River, then over three miles of land in Portsmouth, and then continue north up Mt. Hope Bay to a connection point in Somerset, Mass. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Ragged Island’s Brewery Barn was crowded with local residents who met with a team of engineers and other experts who answered questions about the Rhode Island aspects of the offshore wind project. There was no formal presentation, but Mayflower had various informational visuals to share.

“People still have a lot of questions,” said Dugan Becker, one of Mayflower’s community liaison officers. “We’re still relatively new in town, and that’s why we’re hosting events like these. The reason we’re not presenting tonight — and we didn’t present last night, either —is because we want to hear those questions.”

The type of questions Mayflower heard depended on the stakeholder, Becker said.

“We’re getting questions about route selection — why Portsmouth as opposed to Westport, or staying in the Sakonnet. There’s been a fair amount of questions about benefits to the town — ‘What’s in it for us?’ — which is a fair question,” he said.

As for the former question, Becker said the proposed route was chosen as the most sound after several years of careful deliberations.

“The long and short of it, in the permitting process you need to explore the full universe of options,” he said. “Altogether, we looked at a dozen, maybe even two dozen, routes through this area to get to Brayton Point. And, you need to essentially rank each one of them on a wide range of criteria, things like: Are there sensitive habitats, is it a previously disturbed area, is it technically feasible, are there environmental justice concerns? There are a million and one factors you have to consider, and then you essentially narrow that down to three or four potential routes that you give to a permitting agency.” 

As for benefits to Portsmouth?

“The most direct benefit to Portsmouth is that we’re in discussions with the town right now to draft a host community agreement, which is typically a financial agreement,” said Becker. “They vary in format, but usually they’re spread out over the life of the project or at least a number of years. It has to be somethings that’s obviously mutually agreed upon, but it might be something like financing an infrastructure project for the town, or some other initiative that the town is looking to foster.”

Becker said the project will also bring many jobs to the region.

“It’s not every day that a new industry comes to town. With the full scope of our projects, we’re looking at around 25,000 jobs, direct and indirect. Just in terms of direct construction jobs, we’re looking at around 15,000 or so,” he said. Mayflower has committed itself to at least 75 percent of the longterm operations and maintenance jobs being based in the region, he added, and a facility in Fall River is going to have about 360 full-time staff alone.

Grid reliability is also a benefit to Portsmouth, he said. “Right now our grid is in a bit of a dangerous point where there’s been a lot of retirements of existing energy-generating facilities … and they’re retiring at a rate where the likelihood of blackouts is higher,” said Becker, adding that wind power is a local and reliable source of energy that’s not reliant on other countries.

“Especially when you’re looking at New England, which has some of the the strongest, most consistent and reliable off-shore wind resources anywhere in the world, more or less, you get a great introduction of reliability into the grid,” he said.

What will it look like?

Kelsey Perry, another community liaison coordinator for Mayflower, said many of the questions have to do with the actual construction of the cable lines, “what it looks like, what am I going to see, what am I going to hear, what is going to happen, which is why we have all these resources here. We’re also getting questions about impact to marine life, what types of surveys are we doing now to figure out how this will be an impact, how are we going to monitor, and just why Portsmouth and why the Sakonnet?”

To many residents, Mayflower just recently arrived here, she said. “But we’ve been doing routing analysis for three, four years at this point. We have data sets to show, and that’s why we wanted to have an event like this so it’s not a 20-minute presentation, but three hours of us combing through our mappers and those types of things,” she said.

Mayflower is currently in the advisory opinion process, which is a six-month period, Perry said. There will probably be a major EFSB hearing in late spring 2023.

“That’s kind of the next big public comment hearing, but in the meantime we’re working really closely with local zoning and planning and the Town Council in Portsmouth, which are giving advisory opinions. We’re working with them to give them resources, and continue to negotiate a host community agreement — those local pieces leading up to the RI EFSB hearing,” she said.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.