Construction has begun on the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, three miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Although small in size when compared to the massive offshore wind farms that have been going up in European waters, the new wind farm off Block Island will consist of five Haliade turbines. These have a 6MW capacity and a 150-metre diameter rotor, which manufacturer Alstom claims offers a 15% better energy yield than existing offshore turbines, enabling each one to supply power to the equivalent of 5,000 households. The wind farm will be operating by autumn 2016.
Deepwater Wind, the company behind the project, expects the wind farm to cut energy bills for the island – home to some of the highest rates in the country – by 40%. The farm will produce more energy than the island needs, enough for 17,000 homes, and surplus energy will be used on the mainland.
While a vocal minority complains that the farm will spoil their ocean view, the majority of residents are in favour of the project, including state and local leaders, environmentalists, fishermen and a local Indian tribe.
However, other wind farm projects have stalled because of lawsuits, regulatory troubles and a lack of local support. For example, Cape Wind's proposed 130-turbine wind farm was for years expected to be America's first such project, but, after 14 years and millions of dollars spent working through the regulatory hurdles and fighting lawsuits, it may never be built.
Image caption: First 'steel in the water' installed for wind farm off Block Island
Image credit: Deepwater Wind
Deepwater Wind and other leaders in the industry believe that it is important to have a project up and running in the US to show policy makers, utility executives and regulators that it is possible to get one through the permitting and financing process.
Abigail Ross Hopper, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management which oversees leasing federal waters, adds that, “Having an offshore wind project that people can see and understand and study will take away a lot of the concerns that folks [in the general public] had.”
Block Island is therefore being welcomed as the pilot programme for the nascent American offshore wind industry. If the project can demonstrate the effectiveness of this technology and sway further support, Deepwater will develop a farm with 200 turbines, between Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island.
With 4.5% of electricity in the US being supplied by wind energy today, a report by the US Department of Energy projects that wind power's contributions to US electricity production will accelerate up to 10% by 2020, to 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. In overcoming a multitude of hurdles, what can future projects learn from the development of Block Island’s wind farm?
Washington Post (2015, July 27) A milestone for wind energy: Work underway on first offshore platforms in U.S. waters
Bloomberg (2015, July 28) Costly Offshore Wind a Deal in U.S. Markets With Highest Rates
The Boston Globe (2015, May 29) Cape Wind seeks more time to restart stalled wind farm