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Block Island and Newport preservationists fight to protect Rhode Island from massive wind farms

A month ago, after Cape May County, New Jersey, filed a federal lawsuit to stop two immense Ørsted wind farms, the company responded by announcing they were canceling their plans, leaving unfinished construction, citing their inability to predict financial pressures on the project, not widespread community opposition. Two senior staff have left the company, and management is being shifted as one project after another face an insecure future.

Yesterday, Rhode Island took a double-barreled action with federal appeals being filed for both Block Island and Newport to stop two massive offshore wind farms by Ørsted, saying they would “despoil the viewsheds for at least the next 30 years”.

Without intervention, Block Island’s “quaint” set of five wind turbines, the first offshore windfarm in America, could grow to as many as 599 turbines, and of massively increased height – 800 feet tall – taller than an 80-story skyscraper.

In Newport, the group of massive turbines could be built as close as 12 miles from Newport’s coast, visible from the shore.

The Rhode Island actions are being managed by Cultural Heritage Partners, a law firm specializing in historic preservation and cultural heritage law.

Block Island Historic Presesrvation Group’s actions

The Southeast Lighthouse Foundation (SELF), which owns and manages Block Island’s most iconic historic structure and New England’s highest lighthouse, appealed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)’s permitting decisions for two of the massive offshore wind farms planned by Danish-owned energy behemoth Ørsted on November 22, 2023.

Block Island is awakening to the reality that the number of visible turbines off its coast will soon grow from five to as many as 599 and despoil the Island’s treasured views for the next thirty years. The historic Southeast Lighthouse is a National Historic Landmark–honored by the Nation’s highest designation of historic importance reserved for the likes of the Lincoln Memorial and the Golden Gate Bridge. A world-renowned symbol of Block Island’s rich cultural heritage, the Southeast Light is among numerous historic resources that the government has failed to protect from what BOEM itself concedes are significant negative impacts of the industrialization of the seascape.

Sham regulatory reviews

SELF’s appeals allege that, in a process rushed by political pressures from the White House, BOEM has conducted sham regulatory reviews. The filings inventory dozens of failures to comply with the key requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including approving individual farms without appropriately considering the cumulative adverse effects of 599 turbines from seven contiguous planned farms. The appeals contend that BOEM, the federal agency responsible for ensuring balance between offshore development projects and harm to environmental and historic resources, has all but abandoned its post. Instead–the appeals allege–BOEM has handed the wheel to foreign energy executives who have never set foot on Block Island.

Dr. Gerry Abbott, Chairman of the SELF Board, stated, “Block Island is obviously not anti-Wind Energy. We were the first town in the US to host a fully built offshore wind farm. But imagining the visual impact of an 11,000% increase in the number of visible turbines off our Coast – and knowing they will remain for the next 30 years– is nothing short of stunning…..a complete industrialization of our ocean view.”

The suit notes the support of environmentalists, even the National Congress of American Indians, an organization whose hundreds of member Tribal Nations have long prioritized environmental stewardship, has called for a moratorium on offshore wind development citing BOEM’s failures to consult appropriately.

Ørsted has different strategies: Fight back – offer mitigation – and give up

Ørsted wrote down almost $5.6 billion in losses and lost as much as 50% of its stock value as a result of its poor planning for East Coast projects. Instead of working with coastal communities and Tribal Nations to develop creative solutions, however, Ørsted is now fighting state and municipal governments, trying to back out of funding commitments and renegotiate power sale agreements.

Ørsted is treating Block Island very differently than other communities its projects will impact. For example, Ørsted committed $170 million to Brookhaven, New York and $29 million to the Town of East Hampton to mitigate the temporary negative impacts of burying a power cable.

By contrast Ørsted and BOEM offered the Town virtually nothing except a hodgepodge of nonsensical mitigation measures, such as weed-whacking the Lighthouse parking lot. Indeed, the paltry mitigation offered for the adverse effects of hundreds of turbines falls significantly short of the modest mitigation provided to the Island for the construction of just five turbines that comprise the Block Island Wind Farm.

Drop in tourism – loss of revenue

Ørsted’s own study shows that visitation to coastal communities could drop by 15% when the ocean views become industrialized—a conservative estimate that could cost Block Island more than $1B in lost tourism revenues alone.

SELF’s Executive Director, Lisa Nolan, emphasized the need to balance renewable energy with the importance of preserving Block Island’s sense of place and its economy, which relies significantly on heritage tourism. “Five wind turbines off the coast may have a certain charm and interest, but a forest of 599 wind turbines will alter the Island’s character for generations to come.

Dr. Abbott concluded: “As our neighbors and visitors come to realize how these wind farms have
forever changed Block Island, they will ask, ‘Why didn’t our community do more to demand balance? They won’t be able to blame us. We may be David slinging at Goliath, but we believe the Rule of Law is on our side.”

Legal challenge will impact windfarm development plans across US

It seems unfair to place all potential risks on our historic community while the developer reaps
the rewards,” she said. Cultural Heritage Partners serves as legal counsel to SELF in the appeals. Cultural Heritage Partners, a law firm specializing in historic preservation and cultural heritage law, notes, “Our federal laws must be enforced as Congress intended and all adverse effects minimized or mitigated as required by law,” said Will Cook, counsel for offshore wind actions. Partner William Cook observed: “Gutting the laws safeguarding cultural and environmental resources because you like wind projects ensures that those laws will remain gutted when you need their protections against the harms of fossil fuel projects.”

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Preservation Society of Newport County fights massive wind turbine farms that will be seen across the entire horizon

The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island’s largest and nationally respected steward of historic preservation, filed their appeals on November 22, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The appeals also detail how the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) failed to comply with the heightened levels of review required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

The appeal claims that BOEM improperly approved wind farms that will damage historic resources within the City of Newport, which is heavily dependent on heritage tourism. Federal law makes clear that the “viewsheds” of historic resources are as important as bricks and mortar. These appeals seek to preserve historic and pristine views from industrial-scale development.

“We support green energy,” said Trudy Coxe, the Preservation Society’s CEO. “For two years we pointed out serious problems with the federal permitting process, but BOEM never listened. Green energy projects need not come at the unnecessary loss to our community’s irreplaceable character and sense of place. For more than a century millions of people have visited Newport to walk Cliff Walk, enjoy our beautiful beaches and tour Ocean Drive. These historic resources deserve the due process mandated by federal law.”

BOEM approved almost 200 wind turbines over 800 feet tall – taller than an 80-story skyscraper – as close as 12 miles from Newport’s coast. This is a project of unprecedented industrial scale with six additional wind farms slated for future approval which could add 800 turbines.

Newport’s National Historic Landmark districts, including the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, Ocean Drive Historic District and Ochre Point-Cliffs Historic District, as well as Brenton Point State Park and Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge, will see massive wind turbines across the entire horizon. BOEM determined during the permitting review that Newport will experience these adverse effects but failed to eliminate or mitigate them, as required by federal law.

The Preservation Society of Newport County is a nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. It is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes, decorative arts and social history. Its 11 historic properties – seven of them National Historic Landmarks – span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.

Cultural Heritage Partners, a law firm specializing in historic preservation and cultural heritage law, represents the Preservation Society in the appeals. “Our federal laws must be enforced as Congress intended and all adverse effects minimized or mitigated as required by law,” said Will Cook, counsel for offshore wind actions.

“In rushing to issue permits for these massive energy development projects, BOEM skipped steps and failed to meet its legal obligations. Our appeals highlight BOEM’s errors and ask that the process be done correctly. The people of Newport County deserve better.”

The outcomes of the Block Island and Newport appeals are expected to have broader implications, potentially affecting the legal framework for future development projects across the United States.

Ørsted

Ørsted has not made comment on these two actions – Block Island and Newport – but three days ago noted the first of Long Island’s South Fork Wind’s 12 wind turbine generators was hoisted into place by the offshore construction team at the project site 35 miles off Montauk, N.Y. The statement included many quotes of support from New York and national officials.

On October 31st, the Board of Directors of Ørsted announced their decision to cease development of the Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2 projects off the coast of New Jersey, citing “macroeconomic factors”, not community opposition. The statement noted “The decision to cease development of Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2 is part of an ongoing review of Ørsted’s U.S. offshore wind portfolio with an update planned for its Q4 2023 results announcement.”

This is a developing story.

5 Comments

  1. Dominick Sciarretta on January 18, 2024 at 3:51 am

    I’ve recently had an artist custom design some products to raise awareness on this issue. They’re gorgeous, and I’d like to know if there’s a fund or organization I can support from any of the sales? Can someone point me in the right direction?

  2. Gen. Stillwell on November 25, 2023 at 1:26 am

    The ignorance of the comments above is frightening. No matter what we do ⅓ or RI will not be underwater in 50 years and nuclear waste is an easily managed issue as numerous countries throughout the world prove.

    Apart from the damage inflicted on marine life offshore wind is the most expensive form of alternative energy. As wind is intermittent it still requires power plants. The rate payer then has to support both the fixed costs of the windmills and the cost of power plants. This drives rates through the roof. This is in effect a tax and those who can least afford it are the poor and elderly. As they people won’t be able to heat their homes expect deaths attributed to lack of heat to skyrocket. Gov. Ahab will be responsible for more then the death of whales.

  3. Frank Haggerty on November 23, 2023 at 4:33 pm

    Stop the wind farms and save the whales. The noise from construction including sonar makes the whales deaf. A deaf whale is a dead whale. They can not communicate,hunt for fish and navigate into shipping lanes.

  4. Nick Landekic on November 23, 2023 at 2:31 pm

    There will be a cost to *any* form of energy. There is no free lunch. The environmental and other costs and downsides of fossil fuels are well established, and horrendous for the planet. The supply is running out so we must transition to renewables. But they all have costs.

    Nuclear creates radioactive waste for which there is no good solution.

    Solar takes up land that could otherwise be used for other purposes. It’s also most feasible in areas with a high proportion of clear, sunny days. Because of transmission line losses it’s not feasible to just put them all out in the desert.

    The technology for geothermal hasn’t been sufficiently developed to allow for large-scale use.

    Wind turbines can interfere wit some people’s views. But it’s perfect for areas like New England, where the wind blows consistently. You can put turbines farther off shore out of anyone’s sight but then the costs go up significantly. Are customers willing to pay for that? Because consumers have to pay for any and all energy projects – there is no free money.

    Pick your poison. If we want energy, and to transition away from dwindling and destructive fossil fuels, there will be costs. On balance, the possibility of interfering with a wealthy homeowner’s views seems less damaging to the planet than global warming, sea level rise, or radioactive waste.

  5. Karl Abrahamson on November 23, 2023 at 11:13 am

    Image 1/3 of RI underwater in 50 years. That’s not a legacy I want for my children and grandchildren

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