An Interview with Carol Grant, Commissioner of the Office of Energy Resources for the State of Rhode Island

Editor’s Note: As the US offshore wind industry surges forward, the creation of a domestic supply chain will be critical to meet the growing demand.  But to understand what is needed for the supply chain, we must start with what is happening in the states, particularly in the Northeast, which has become the focal point for offshore wind development. 

Rhode Island is the site of the first and still only offshore wind farm in the United States – the Block Island Wind Farm.  While small in area, Rhode Island has big plans for offshore wind and is moving to not only encourage deployment of offshore wind but also to build the supply chain and workforce of the future.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Carol Grant, Commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, who gave an update on where offshore wind in Rhode Island currently stands and the state’s goals for the future. 

Commissioner Grant: “As the state that led the nation in offshore wind with our Block Island project, Rhode Island has really had our eye on the opportunity for offshore wind for some time.  In the long run our goals are to be sure that we have the offshore wind that is both affordable and appropriate for Rhode Island and we’re hoping for more than our fair share for this growing industry. 

Here is where Rhode Island stands in 2019.  We are in the process of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) reviewing the contract between Revolution Wind and National Grid for 400 MW of offshore wind power.  That came out of a joint procurement with Massachusetts announced in 2018 that was, for many people, an exciting and larger-than-expected commitment by Rhode Island to offshore wind.  It was great working together with Massachusetts on that procurement.  The reduction of costs was so significant and it really allowed us to do something bold that was good for the customers in Rhode Island. 

That contract is under review right now; the hearings are taking place and a decision by the PUC is expected by June 1.  Right behind that, the state on its own issued a 400 MW RFP for renewables of all kinds.  Out of that there are a number of bids including solar, onshore wind and offshore wind.  So once we complete those two procurements, we will reassess and determine what the next steps are. 

But in the meantime, we are very excited about what the 400 MW project offers us in Rhode Island in terms of supply chain development, workforce development and economic development opportunities generally. 

The Renewable Energy Standard (RES) for RI that went into law says that we need to have 38.5% renewables by 2035.  That is what many states use as the description of their goals.  Rhode Island’s governor, Gina Raimondo, saw the opportunity to accelerate our renewable energy deployment in this time period with the reduction in prices and the existence of the federal tax credits.  She put forward a goal for 1,000 MW of clean energy by 2020.  That is a ten-fold increase in renewable energy in the state.  When Revolution Wind is approved, it will provide a quarter of the energy needed in the state.  So while the numbers are somewhat smaller than some of our larger states, the percentage of load that we will deliver with clean energy will be significantly higher. 

Under Governor Raimondo, one of the real strengths of Rhode Island’s economic development plan is that she has been working in parallel on workforce development to meet the needs of Rhode Island companies.  As a result, the state has developed a first-class set of programs that customize workforce development for the companies that are here.  Building on that success, as soon as Revolution Wind was selected, and actually I think before that selection occurred, the Department of Labor and Training had put together a Real Jobs RI collaborative to address offshore wind workforce development for the long-term.  This one is really innovative.  It’s called the Wind Win RI.  It is hosted by the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with supply chain participants. 

Wind Win RI really started with the premise that these jobs are here for the long run so we should start working in the schools – middle school and high school – developing a pipeline of interested talent that can then move through the talent pipeline to be ready for the long run in the offshore wind industry.

That was the first step.  After Revolution Wind was announced, one of the commitments that was made was to invest in both higher education and workforce development.  So an additional $500,000 has been committed by Orsted and Eversource, the owners of Revolution Wind, to future workforce development that will then be designed to make sure that it is really addressing the supply chain issues.  And they’re not just for a particular project.  We’re interested in Rhode Island developing the supply chain for multiple projects.  We believe that our ports, our experience with Block Island and our workforce are going to be a real strength and out of Rhode Island we can serve projects well beyond what we procure.  So we are looking at the long run and I think the Commerce Corporation, Rhode Island’s economic development organization, is very much focused on making sure that we secure the supply chain and then develop the talent that they need. 

In addition to the investments in workforce and higher education with Revolution Wind also came the commitment to invest $40 million in Rhode Island ports.  Details on that are being worked out but it is a very significant investment and it will really help advance even further the strength of our ports. 

I see the offshore wind industry in Rhode Island capturing the imagination of so many people.  This is an industry that can grab a kid’s interest whether she is looking at becoming an engineer or a marine biologist or a welder or a consultant or somebody who actually goes out and works on the turbines themselves.  There are so many different ways to get excited about it.  I spoke with a 4th grade class earlier this month and their eyes light up just hearing about offshore wind.  What Rhode Island is doing in this field is pretty exciting to see in kids’ eyes.  And it’s also great to have the support of the trades, who see a great possibility for good jobs in the future for their membership.  I think a lot of people are excited about the possibilities that it brings.”