Louisiana legislators, business leaders travel to Rhode Island to tour wind farm
A handful of Louisiana legislators and business leaders wrapped up a tour of Rhode Island’s wind energy sector aimed at learning best practices and applying them to the state’s evolving wind industry.
The trip was organized by the Center for Planning Excellence, a Baton Rouge planning and design nonprofit, and funded in part by a grant and sponsorships from Shell, Jacobs, RWE Renewables, Jones Walker and Phelps Dunbar, all of which sent representatives to Rhode Island.
Participants paid their own way, though CPEX offered legislators a stipend of up to $1,000 for travel expenses. CPEX officials said no legislator came close to hitting that total.
The trip was part of a CPEX initiative called “Power Up Louisiana” that aims to bring government officials and energy experts together to advance clean energy opportunities for the state, said Camille Manning-Broome, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.
Fifty-seven people participated, most of whom were from Louisiana. Some Rhode Island lawmakers and officials joined them.
Legislators who made the trip included state Sens. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans; Patrick McMath, R-Covington; and Mike Reese, R-Leesville, and Reps. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma; Tanner Magee, R-Houma; Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge; and Ryan Bourriaque, R-Abbeville.
Other notable travelers were Blake Canfield, executive counsel at the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources; Preston Castille, a Baton Rouge attorney and vice president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education; Chris Meyer, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation; and Abbeville Mayor Roslyn White.
The group arrived in Rhode Island on Wednesday and stayed in downtown Providence, according to an itinerary of the trip. The group left Friday.
Stops included a tour of the Block Island Wind Farm, a cluster of turbines about nine miles south of Rhode Island’s mainland. Louisiana firms played a critical rolein building the Block Island turbines.
“It was important to actually see them functioning,” said Zeringue, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “It was just an opportunity to see and speak to the people who have actually implemented these projects and learn from them so we don’t repeat the mistakes (they made).”
Other itinerary items included panel discussions with Rhode Island officials, University of Rhode Island researchers, and business and industry leaders. The group also toured ProvPort, the Providence port where additional wind turbines will be made.
A key takeaway from the discussions was the need to invest in the state’s educational system to develop the required workforce for offshore wind jobs, Manning-Broome said. However, Louisiana’s experience in building offshore oil and gas rigs should translate well to wind turbines.
“This is in our DNA. This is who we are,” Manning-Broome said. “This is about building ships and engineering and building structures. We know the challenges of the Gulf Coast. There’s no one better than us to be able to build this out and reap the benefits of it for our workforce and for our economy.”
The tour came as interest is amplifying on the Gulf of Mexico’s potential for offshore wind power. At least five wind farms have been proposed for waters off Louisiana, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is preparing to host a wind lease sale in the Gulf later this year. In addition, the state’s climate action plan is shooting for five gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035. That's enough to power roughly 865,000 homes, according to estimates from the Solar Energy Industries Association.
“I think that what we learned loud and clear is that we can’t do this alone, and we’ve got to send clear, strong signals to the wind and development community that we’re serious about this, and we need to have one voice in describing what our needs are,” Manning-Broome said.
Zeringue, who sponsored legislation last year that allows for offshore wind leasing in state waters, said additional wind projects will provide jobs and complement the state’s oil and gas industry.
“I think there are additional things that we can do to incentivize business and industry to engage in the wind industry in and along the region, especially the Gulf Coast because we’re in a position to service and prepare and work with all Gulf Coast states,” he said.