In What Ways Did Rhode Island Minimize the Impacts Had on Birds From the Block Island Wind Farm? Have These Efforts Been Effective?

This question was supplied by the ‘Ask the Experts’ database managers.

Reviewed by: Dr. Scott McWilliams

Last Update: May 21st, 2020

The Ask the Experts database managers conducted an interview with Dr. Scott McWilliams (Professor of Wildlife Ecology & Physiology) to summarize the findings of multiple URI studies that have set out to minimize the effects that the Block Island Wind Farm has had on birds and bats.

Dr. McWilliams highlights the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (known as the Ocean SAMP) as a successful initiative taken by the state to ensure that the construction of the Block Island Wind Farm would have as minimal impacts as possible on avian life. The Ocean SAMP is a community-based public effort which is an active and federally recognized coastal management and regulatory tool. The SAMP is a model for coastal and ocean practitioners to responsibly plan for the use of ocean resources around the globe. The project utilizes the best available science to responsibly aid in the ongoing protection and allocation of Rhode Island’s ocean-based resources.

Through the Ocean SAMP, the state was able to determine which locations were the best possible sites for the offshore wind turbines in respect to birds, bats, marine mammals and other organisms. Rhode Island also enlisted the help of researchers in Western Europe as they have been specializing in offshore renewable energy for approximately 20 years prior to the United States’ dive into the field. Through this partnership, locally-based researchers were able to learn from both the successes and shortcomings of the various studies, monitoring methods and placement considerations that Europe has already experimented with. This baseline information was very helpful to Rhode Island’s successful siting and development of the Block Island Wind Farm.

McWilliams says that the advantage of the Ocean SAMP is that it allowed local researchers to gather information about the natural resources in the area, as well as the organisms that use them, and then place the turbines in locations where they would have minimal impacts. One example of this is the regulation put into place to ensure that there will be no turbines in waters less than 20 meters deep as those areas had consistently higher concentrations of marine birds.

The proof of the success of the steps taken by the state for the development of offshore wind is made evident by the completion of the project. Unlike Rhode Island, Massachusetts went through a very different process when siting the location of Cape Wind which was a large offshore wind energy facility that was proposed for Horseshoe Shoal located in Nantucket Sound in late 2001. Rather than surveying potential effects prior to proposing a location, the developer chose a location and a subsequent environmental impact assessment was conducted after the fact. This proposal ended up in litigation for more than 15 years and was eventually proven to be unsuccessful. Whereas in Rhode Island, development did occur and largely so with support from both the environmental and renewable energy stakeholders.

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