State coastal engineer alleges SouthCoast Wind developer lied to energy regulators
Accusations come amid scrutiny of financially troubled project
Aerial view of one of the five wind turbines 3.8 miles southeast of Block Island generating electricity at the Block Island Wind Farm. A separate wind farm project, South Coast Wind Farm, is under scrutiny amid new allegations by a state coastal engineer. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Financial headwinds aren’t the only obstacle a Massachusetts offshore wind farm developer must overcome to secure critical approvals from Rhode Island regulators. SouthCoast Wind Energy LLC is also facing new allegations that it lied to one state regulator about the progress achieved in its application to another state agency.
David Ciochetto, an engineer with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, alleged that the developer of the SouthCoast Wind Farm has made “blaring, misleading statements, if not outright lies” about where the project stands with the CRMC, one of which was confirmed by Rhode Island Current.
The allegations were shared in a June 29 email with Emma Rodvien, coordinator for the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board, which is also reviewing the project. The emails were shared publicly on July 3.
“The level we are being lied to, the level that we are being misled, the level that we are being divided and tried [sic] to conquer each agency is irresponsible,” Ciochetto, who was hired by the CRMC in 2019, wrote in his email.
Ciochetto’s email comes amid ongoing scrutiny of the 50-turbine wind farm after the developer confirmed it wants to renege on its power contracts with Massachusetts utility companies in the hopes of getting a better deal. This, in turn, prompted questions among Rhode Island energy regulators over whether to continue their own review of the project as it pertains to plans to run an underwater transmission line from the wind farm up the Sakonnet River, over Portsmouth and out Mount Hope Bay to reach land in Somerset’s Brayton Point.
Ciochetto in his three-page, 2,100-word email lays out several examples in which he says the developer lied about its interactions with the CRMC.
Ciochetto then opines on the power of money in the energy sector and likens the developers to “energy terrorists.” He also states in the email he has a 103-degree fever.
Ciochetto did not respond to inquiries for comment. Both the CRMC and SouthCoast in separate statements acknowledged the email but did not go into detail about specific accusations.
“Southcoast Wind has been forthright and transparent in its interactions with the RI EFSB and Coastal Resources Management Council – just as we have been in all our permitting and siting efforts – and this is demonstrated by agency records,” Rebecca Ullman, a spokesperson for SouthCoast Wind, said in an emailed statement.
“We look forward to continuing our discussions about the benefits and need of our project with these organizations, the Town of Portsmouth, and all residents and businesses in Rhode Island.”
Jeffrey Willis, executive director for the CRMC, in a separate email response said the agency is “aware” of the email.
“CRMC is committed to continuing to work together with the Southcoast Wind project team and will ensure that this working relationship moves forward in an atmosphere of cooperation, transparency, and productivity,” Willis wrote.
Amid the doubts cast by Ciochetto’s email, Ronald Gerwatowski, chairman of the Energy Facility Siting Board, has asked Willis and Ray Coia, CRMC chairman, to weigh in on the “reasonableness” of SouthCoast’s estimated timeline for CRMC approval. The agency had not responded to that request as of Thursday.
Outreach to fishing industry misrepresented
The Current has confirmed one of Ciochetto’s accusations: that the developer has not met with an advisory panel of fishing representatives about the project, despite June 2 written testimony from CEO Francis Slingsby that it “has continued to engage in discussions with the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Advisory Board.” Marisa Desautel, an attorney who represents the fishermen’s board, confirmed in an interview that the group has never met with the developer. Desautel also said the board has not requested a meeting yet because members have been busy with other projects. She did not know whether CRMC staff had asked for the two groups to meet.
Other allegations in Ciochetto’s email have not been confirmed, including the status of the project application to the CRMC. Slingsby wrote that the project was “moving forward with other important Rhode Island state permit applications,” including approval from the CRMC for the portion of the project within state waters. But Ciochetto says the application was deemed incomplete, and is no longer under review after multiple attempts by staff to have the company fill in the missing information were unsuccessful.
The CRMC did not respond to requests to confirm if this was true, nor did it comment on other allegations made by Ciochetto of the company being unresponsive or uncooperative with the CRMC staff, including in its urging to look at alternative options for the transmission line route to avoid the Sakonnet River.
Once the CRMC responds to Gerwatoski’s request, the energy board will schedule another public meeting to discuss, and possibly vote upon, whether to continue its review of the transmission line plan, Rodvien said. Its decision rests not on the allegations, but on whether the project is still commercially viable.
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