Offshore wind farm proposes cable connection through Sakonnet River, Mt. Hope Bay

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 5/4/22

The project developer contends it will generate enough clean energy to power 800,000 homes, and will plug into the grid that serves Rhode Island as well. But potential environmental impacts have yet to be discussed publicly.

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Offshore wind farm proposes cable connection through Sakonnet River, Mt. Hope Bay


A major offshore wind project located 30 miles south of Nantucket, capable of powering up to 800,000 homes, proposes to lay a 20-mile-long stretch of mostly underwater cables that would run through the Sakonnet River, bridge over three miles of land in Portsmouth, and then continue north up Mt. Hope Bay to a connection point at Brayton Point in Somerset, Mass., where it will connect up to 1,200 megawatts of power to the electrical grid.

The project, currently undergoing an extensive permitting process, is being pursued by Fall River-based Mayflower Wind Energy, LLC. Mayflower was unanimously selected by Massachusetts officials to lease a 127,000-acre area of the Atlantic Ocean — one of eight such parcels provided to potential offshore wind projects in the area — for those purposes. The portion of the cable extension going through Rhode Island comprises half the project, with the other connection point making landfall in Falmouth, Mass. delivering another 1,200 MW.

Mayflower Wind claims that the project will create more than 11,000 jobs throughout the implementation, maintenance, and service periods. Additionally, they argue the goals of the project are in line with the state’s proclaimed goals of supporting a full transition towards renewable energy sources by 2025, and a key piece to reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2050, which was targeted as a goal by the 2021 Act on Climate bill signed by Gov. Dan McKee last year.

“There are several significant economic, environmental, and social benefits to offshore wind power, including the generation of electricity that does not emit air pollutants and that can replace other more environmentally costly forms of electricity generation,” reads an introductory report to the project by Mayflower. “The Project is expected to help achieve environmental and clean/renewable energy goals for the region, including eliminating at least 1.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually once in operation — the equivalent of taking 347,968 cars off the road per year.”

It was not clear as of press deadline how much of the power generated by this project — which Mayflower wants to have operational around 2025 — would actually be going to Rhode Island, but they state in the aforementioned report, “The Project’s objective is to provide Massachusetts and neighboring states, including Rhode Island, with clean, renewable wind energy…”

Early in the process, and much to be considered
The potential implications of the project are immense. A simple browse of the available public documents on Mayflower’s website for the project reveals they have already generated voluminous preliminary analysis on everything from possible impacts to native sea life and commercial fishing, water quality, terrestrial vegetation, risks to historic properties and protected land, among dozens of other considerations (see QR code for more information).

Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper for Save the Bay, said in an interview on Monday that while the project was very much in its initial phases, they were keeping a close eye on it. There is a virtual informational session scheduled for Wednesday, May 4 at 6:30 p.m. (occurring after press deadlines for most of our papers) that he said he would be attending.

“It’s hard to miss the writing on the wall that we need a cleaner source of energy, and we do support that, but not just in a blanket kind of way,” Jarbeau said. “We support it being properly done and properly cited. We want it to be deliberative and to take into consideration our existing resources and protecting them as best as possible…There’s only once chance to get it right.”

Portsmouth land connection includes many protected areas
A portion of the project of particular interest to East Bay residents will be the land connection of the wind farm’s power delivery cables over a portion of Aquidneck Island, specifically over an area of Portsmouth that includes the 56-acre, state-protected Boyd’s Marsh.

Mayflower states in their report that they had looked into alternative cable routing that did not include a land crossing, but were ultimately not viable.

“Due to the narrow width of the Sakonnet River channel north of Route 24, and the strong currents and high volume of boating traffic in this reach, a fully in-water route was deemed unfeasible,” the report reads.
There are three potential routes for the land-based cable connection to traverse through Portsmouth, all of which go through some portion of Boyd’s Marsh, a state-managed saltmarsh.

One route option would go directly underneath the Montaup Country Club, another option would go underneath the Bertha K. Russel Preserve, and another would be within the area of the Black Regiment Memorial Park, managed by DEM. Other areas that would be close to the cable work, depending on which option chosen, could include the Gould Island Rookery, Mount Hope Park, and the Gull Cove Fishing Area.

Mayflower writes in their report that extensive site work would be conducted per regulations to prevent disruption to these protected lands, and would utilize specialized drilling and existing roadways to do so.

“The sea-to-shore transition from the Sakonnet River to Aquidneck Island will be completed using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) to avoid and minimize impacts to bottom habitats and shoreline coastal features,” Mayflower’s report reads. “All routes originate at a landing near the southern end of Boyds Lane, and, where possible, follow existing roadways across the island, exiting from the northern end of the island and continuing in water through Mount Hope Bay.”

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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.