The nation’s first off-shore wind farm was completed this year and it shut down a diesel power plant. On May 1st Block Island, Rhode Island switched off their diesel generator and hooked in to the wind powered energy provided by the five off-shore wind turbines. The almost decade long project, built by Deepwater Wind, was a long battle and not without it’s share of controversies.
While Europe is dotted with off-shore wind farms, completing one in the United States has proven to be a highly controversial process often met with strong and organized opposition. The first proposed off-shore wind farm was by Cape Wind and was set to be located in Nantucket Sound, off the Massachusetts coast. Unfortunately for Cape Wind, they had the misfortune of planning their turbines in the view of a Koch brother; the famous conservative lobbying family. William Koch owns a house on Nantucket and William Koch does not like wind turbines blocking his view. So William Koch organized a movement to fight the Cape Wind plan. Mr. Koch has donated $5 million to the cause and is on the board of Save Our Sound: The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. The alliance appears to have won the twelve year long battle. Potential customers of Cape Wind energy have cancelled their contacts, crucial permits have expired or been denied, and Cape Wind is facing a legal challenge to their lease of 46 square miles in Nantucket Sound.
The barrier to the nation’s first off-shore wind farm has been broken thanks to the efforts of Block Island, the state of Rhode Island and Deepwater Wind. No town is more fitting than the small seven by three mile island for playing host to the nation’s first off-shore wind farm. The island is a community of roughly 1000 year round residents who pride themselves on their commitment to protecting the environment. Thanks to their commitment to preservation, the Nature Conservancy dubbed the island one of the Last Great Places in The Western Hemisphere. As the local Block Island Conservancy reports over 45% of the island’s land has been preserved. And now the island is the first town in the United States to be fully powered by wind.
Some of the controversy regarding the wind farm project has centered around the reduction in power rates that islanders will receive. Despite being connected to the mainland power grid, island residents appear likely to still pay twice the national average at 24 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the national average of 12 cents. Brian Wilson, manager of the B.I. Wind Farm at Deepwater, clarified the rates issue to Citizen Truth: “Rates are stabilized well below historical highs. We used to be subjected to huge fluctuations in cost due to fuel oil markets.” As Wilson also noted “more important than the money thing is what a great fit the wind farm is with the BI environmental ethos and our ecotourism economy.” Shutting down the island’s diesel plant and switching to wind power also means saving about 1 million gallons of diesel fuel burned annually by the island’s residents. Despite this, there are of course detractors who also oppose the ‘visual pollution’ of wind turbines in the ocean.
Now that the first off-shore wind farm is complete, the future of such farms looks bright. Deepwater Wind and LIPA (the Long Island Power Authority) agreed in early 2017 to a twenty year power purchase agreement for another wind farm off the end of Long Island. This guarantees Deepwater a customer and thus funds for going forward with the Long Island Project. Deepwater already has a federal lease for their project but must still go through federal and state permitting as well as pass various environmental regulations. Governor Cuomo announced the approval of the agreement as part of New York’s plan to “secure 50 percent of the state’s electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030.”
Meanwhile, around the country more off-shore wind farms are being considered and are moving forward. As the NRDC reports, leasing rights to a federal offshore wind energy area south of Long Island were awarded to Norwegian developer Statoil for a record $42 million. Last March the U.S. Department of the Interior auctioned off 122,000 acres for off-shore wind development off the coast of North Carolina. Additionally, Massachusetts has committed to build 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power over the next decade and Maryland is moving forward with plans to put 870 MW of offshore wind in place. Thanks to the successful completion of the Block Island Wind Farm, the off-shore wind farm industry is growing. Also according to the NRDC “the U.S. offshore wind potential is enormous, enough to power 30 million homes by 2050.”
Regardless of the current federal government’s stance on alternative energy, the growing off-shore wind farm industry represents only one part of the green energy industry and there is hope for a cleaner, greener future.
*For more information about Block Island’s wind farm see The Block Island Times website.