The First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Is Complete

The 30-megawatt project is set to be operational in November.

Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffery Grybowski stands on a boat during a media tour of Deepwater Wind’s project off Block Island, R.I., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Deepwater Wind’s $300 million five-turbine wind farm off Block Island is expected to be operational this fall. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MICHAEL DWYER
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffery Grybowski stands on a boat during a media tour of Deepwater Wind’s project off Block Island, R.I., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Deepwater Wind’s $300 million five-turbine wind farm off Block Island is expected to be operational this fall. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MICHAEL DWYER

The country’s first offshore wind farm is complete and set to start putting electricity on the grid by November, the developer announced last week.

The five-turbine, 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm — providing enough electricity to power roughly 18,000 homes for a year — is not going to overhaul the state’s electricity supply, but it is a powerful step forward for Rhode Island and for the country.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) photographs the first foundation jacket installed by Deepwater Wind in the nation’s first offshore wind farm construction project in July 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/STEPHAN SAVOIA
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) photographs the first foundation jacket installed by Deepwater Wind in the nation’s first offshore wind farm construction project in July 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/STEPHAN SAVOIA

That’s because the electricity sector produces roughly a third of U.S. emissions. If the country wants to meet its emissions reduction goals as part of a global effort to curb climate change, transitioning from fossil fuel-powered electricity generation to clean resources such as wind is critical to that effort. In addition, the cost of wind energy has decreased dramatically, making it one of the most cost-effective means of electricity generation.

Calling the project’s completion “a watershed moment,” the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign congratulated Deepwater Wind. “As America’s first offshore wind farm, we see Block Island Wind Farm as landmark for a better, cleaner energy future, and we happily congratulate everyone involved in making it happen,” Mary Anne Hitt said in a statement.  “Our untapped offshore wind energy potential is enormous and it holds the key to creating thousands of good paying clean energy careers, cleaning up the dangerous fossil fuel pollution endemic in many our coastal cities, and provides another effective solution to addressing the climate crisis,” she said.

The project was made possible largely with the support of the state, which has a decade-old renewable energy standard of 16 percent by 2019. In an effort to meet that goal, the state identified an area in state waters near Block Island to auction for development. In addition the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has identified two blocks in federal waters, the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, that could ultimately provide 3,000 megawatts of wind power generation.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group, there are 13 offshore wind projects under development now in the United States, with nearly 6,000 megawatts of capacity set to come online in the coming years.

“Combined with 18 gigawatts of land-based wind energy that’s currently under construction or in the advanced stages of development, that’s enough clean electricity to power millions of American homes,” the group said.

The wind industry has grown nine-fold in the past decade. CREDIT: AWEA
The wind industry has grown nine-fold in the past decade. CREDIT: AWEA

Overall, 371 million megawatts of wind generation accounted for close to 5 percent of the world’s electricity in 2014, according to the most recent data from the International Energy Agency. Still, only 1 percent of that generation came from offshore installations, despite the fact that offshore wind power is more reliable and stronger than onshore.

The Block Island project is part — belatedly — of a growing global trend. The announcement comes just a week after the U.K. approved phase two of what will be the world’s largest wind farm, a 540-turbine, 3-gigawatt installation in the North Sea.

Other countries are even further along. In 2015, Denmark got nearly half of its electricity from offshore wind generation.

Specifically, growing the United States’ offshore wind portfolio makes geographical sense: 80 percent of the country’s electricity demand is from coastal states.