By - Jim Vess

U.S. launches first offshore wind farm

Energize Weekly, November 9, 2016

Twenty-five years behind its European counterparts, the U.S. has finally entered the offshore wind energy market after its first offshore wind farm began operations late last month.

Using large steel platforms and offshore installation techniques borrowed from the oil and gas industry, the five-turbine, 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island will generate enough electricity to power 17,000 homes, or about 4 percent of all households in Rhode Island.  The capacity should offset 121,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

“We’re competitive here in Rhode Island, and we take a great deal of pride in knowing that we beat every other state to be the first with steel in the water and blades over the ocean,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, Chair of the Governors Wind and Solar Energy Coalition. “We have new opportunities to make things again, to be a leader in a new industrial revolution. We’re motivated by our shared belief that we need to produce and consume cleaner, more sustainable energy and leave our kids a healthier planet. But we’re also motivated by this tremendous economic opportunity.”

The capacity is modest compared to the booming European offshore wind energy.  The London Array, a 175-turbine wind farm off the Kent coast in the Thames Estuary of the United Kingdom, is the largest offshore wind farm in the world, sporting a capacity of 630 megawatts.  Of the 10 largest shallow water offshore wind farms in the world, six are located in the UK, two are in Germany, one in Denmark and one in Belgium.

But for the U.S., the launch of Block Island was fifteen years in the making.  Executives at Deepwater Wind, which built the site, learned valuable lessons watching a much larger, more ambitious U.S.-based offshore wind project, the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, never get off the ground.  While Cape Wind estimated its costs at $2.5 billion, Deepwater’s cost to build Block Island came in at $300 million, and while Cape Wind had to battle environmentalists and wealthy homeowners who feared the massive number of wind turbines would obstruct beachfront views and disturb migrating whales, Block Island’s much smaller footprint ensured it would have minimal environmental and social impact.

Deepwater says the successful launch of Block Island will signal the beginning of an American offshore boom.  The company has already leased two more parcels of land off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which it plans to develop into a much larger, utility-scale wind farm with up to 200 turbines.

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