With the constant threat of price instability in New England, tiny Rhode Island is leading the way in a new renewable energy innovation: Offshore Wind Farms. The first wind farm of its kind in the US, this 5-turbine wind farm will provide power for thousands of homes in the state, and will hope be a trend-setter for larger offshore wind projects along the coast of New England moving forward.
A just-completed project off the coast of Rhode Island, though relatively tiny, is at the forefront of a sea-based transition to renewable energy.
BLOCK ISLAND, R.I. — The towering machines stand a few miles from shore, in a precise line across the seafloor, as rigid in the ocean breeze as sailors reporting for duty.
The blades are locked in place for now, but sometime in October, they will be turned loose to capture the power of the wind. And then, after weeks of testing and fine-tuning, America’s first offshore wind farm will begin pumping power into the New England electric grid.
By global standards, the Block Island Wind Farm is a tiny project, just five turbines capable of powering about 17,000 homes. Yet many people are hoping its completion, with the final blade bolted into place at the end of last week, will mark the start of a new American industry, one that could eventually make a huge contribution to reducing the nation’s climate-changing pollution.
The idea of building turbines offshore, where strong, steady wind could, in theory, generate large amounts of power, has long been seen as a vital step toward a future based on renewable energy. Yet even as European nations installed thousands of the machines, American proposals ran into roadblocks, including high costs, murky rules about the use of the seafloor, and stiff opposition from people who did not want their ocean views marred by machinery.
“People have been talking about offshore wind for decades in the United States, and I’ve seen the reaction — eyes roll,” Jeffrey Grybowski said last week in an interview on Block Island. “The attitude was, ‘It’s not going to happen; you guys can’t do it.’”
Mr. Grybowski and the company he runs, Deepwater Wind of Providence, R.I., have now done it. They had a lot of help from the political leadership of Rhode Island, which has seized the lead in this nascent industry, ahead of bigger states like New York and Massachusetts.
Now, offshore wind may be on the verge of rapid growth in the United States.
Using a law passed by a Republican-led Congress in 2005 and signed by President George W. Bush, the Obama administration has been clarifying the ground rules and leasing out large patches of the ocean floor for wind-power development. Nearly two dozen projects are on the drawing board, with some potentially including scores of turbines.
Equally important, state governments in recent months have been making big, new commitments to renewable power, driven by a rising sense of urgency about climate change.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York set a goal of getting 50 percent of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2030, and the state will probably need large offshore wind farms to help achieve that. In Massachusetts, a Republican governor, Charlie Baker, just signed a bipartisan bill ordering the state’s utilities to develop contracts with offshore wind farms for an immense amount of power, 50 times the expected output of the Block Island Wind Farm.
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