Steven J. King, managing director of the Quonset Development Corporation, envisions a 25-acre home base accessible via air and sea for offshore wind developers at Quonset Point. A container ship unloading new cars from Mexico is in the background. (Photo by Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)
In the stretch of grass and gravel between the Port of Davisville and the Quonset State Airport, Steven King sees a way to solidify Rhode Island’s foothold in the offshore wind industry.
King, managing director for the Quonset Development Corporation, wants to turn the 25-acre site into a home base where offshore wind developers and crews can travel by both air and sea to their towering, ocean turbines.
“This is a very unique opportunity,” King said. “Many places have a port, but they don’t have their airport hub attached.”
But the funding for the Quonset Multimodal Offshore Wind Transport & Training Center is contingent on a private developer’s success in securing another state contract to build more offshore wind turbines.
If you plan it, will the money come?
Offshore wind developers Orsted A/S and Eversource Energy committed to paying for the full $35 million price tag – which includes the building, an access road, site improvements and an aviation ramp and taxiway – as part of their proposal to build a second wind farm for Rhode Island. A freshly inked agreement between Orsted, Eversource and Quonset Development Corporation says the companies will only pay for the project – which enshrines Orsted as its anchor tenant – if the wind farm project gets selected by the state, according to King.
That’s a big “if.”
A copy of the agreement between Eversource and Quonset Development Corporation, which was signed “in the last few weeks,” according to King, was not available.
Orsted and Eversource have already secured a contract to bring 500 megawatts of wind power to Rhode Island through their original Revolution Wind project off the coast of Block Island, with construction expected to begin later this year.
But there’s no guarantee their proposal for Revolution Wind 2 project will win a state contract, even though it was the sole response to what was supposed to be a competitive state solicitation. Rhode Island Energy, which is administering the bid on behalf of the state, remained noncommittal, saying at the time bids closed that it would evaluate how the proposal adhered to the bid requirements and state law. A contract could be awarded in June, according to Rhode Island Energy’s tentative timeline.
King isn’t worried.
“We’re doing the preliminary work now no matter what we end up using the land for,” King said. “We could always get it ready and then use it as an interim capacity for other cargo, or something like that.”
An opportunity for Rhode Island
The 25-acre site within Quonset Business Park once housed naval officers during World War II, according to the permit application with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. The Naval Air Station was decommissioned in the 1970s, but the 15 houses weren’t razed until the mid-2000s. Quonset Development Corp. has maintained the land, which it owns part of and leases the rest from Rhode Island Airport Corp., according to King.
Preliminary project lines from Quonset Development Corp. detail a 146,000-square-foot building with space for up to eight tenants, plus four aircraft hangars and an aircraft ramp.
A new road would connect the hub to the Port of Davisville, where $235 million in port improvements are underway to accommodate the offshore wind sector, along with investments by private sector developers.
The new hub may also offer training for the emerging industry’s workforce.
While helicopter transport to and from turbines has yet to take off in the United States, it’s quickly becoming the go-to in Europe because it’s faster and more efficient than boat travel, said Amanda Barker, Rhode Island’s state lead for a regional coalition known as New England for Offshore Wind. Barker also works as policy coordinator for Green Energy Consumers Alliance.
“This definitely will position us to remain a leader in the offshore wind industry,” Barker said of the project. “Quonset being so nicely positioned right at the mouth of Narragansett Bay and so close to the lease areas, I think this will really be a hub for offshore wind. It provides that supply chain, creates jobs for Rhode Islanders and benefits the local economy.”
Quonset Development Corp. has already started preliminary site work, while seeking the necessary approvals from coastal regulators who oversee adjacent wetlands and the Federal Aviation Administration. Pending those two approvals, the project could be “shovel ready” in a matter of months, King said.
Hoping for a windfall
The multimodal hub was part of University of Rhode Island Research Foundation bid for $100 million in federal funding for the blue economy through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. URI was named a finalist in the competition, but not a final recipient of the combined $1 billion in federal funding.
King wasn’t planning to seek federal funding again. Nor does he want to ask Gov. Dan McKee for money, noting that the state’s fiscal 2023 budget already included $60 million for upgrades to the port.
If Orsted and Eversource don’t end up paying for the project, King hopes to find another offshore wind company to pick up the tab. He’s discussed the space with a host of other wind-related companies, including the developers of Vineyard Wind, Dutch maritime contractor Boskalis, and Equinor, which is building wind projects for New York.
“I am hopeful the private sector can leverage the investment being made,” he said.
I am hopeful the private sector can leverage the investment being made.
– Steven King, managing director for the Quonset Development Corporation
Orsted declined to comment on its interest in the project beyond an emailed statement.
“As part of our proposal for Revolution Wind 2, we will make significant investments in the state’s existing ports, including $35 million to realize Quonset Development Corporation’s vision for a Regional Offshore Wind Logistics and Operations Hub at Quonset Point,” Meaghan Wims, a spokesperson for Orsted, said in an email.
“This is part of our proposal to provide more than $2 billion in direct economic benefits to Rhode Island’s blue and green economies, including the creation of hundreds of local jobs and unprecedented investments in port improvements like this one.”
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