The first major offshore wind project in the U.S. is now powering an island

Renewable energy continues its march forward.

The Deepwater Wind project off Block Island, R.I. is now operational. CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
The Deepwater Wind project off Block Island, R.I. is now operational. CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

The Block Island Wind Farm is officially up, running, and connected to the grid, operators announced Monday.

The country’s first offshore wind project will produce enough electricity to power 17,000 average homes. It will provide all the island’s electricity needs, supplanting its old diesel generators and will also send electricity onto the mainland grid.

While environmentalists worry about President-elect Donald Trump’s future climate and energy policies, which look like they will be heavily informed by fossil fuel industry insiders, the Block Island announcement comes as a welcome milestone in the country’s renewable energy portfolio.

“Today’s launch of America’s first offshore wind project epitomizes the clean energy future that’s already here,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an emailed statement. “Strong state and federal policies helped bring us to this day, and they need to continue so we can further grow the U.S. offshore wind industry and deliver cleaner air to all Americans.”

Suh noted, too, that installing wind is a proven jobs creator. From 2015 to 2016, the wind power industry supported a record 88,000 jobs — a 20 percent increase, according to data from the American Wind Energy Association. Roughly a quarter of those jobs are in manufacturing, the lobbying group says.

Deepwater Wind, which developed the Block Island project, called Monday the start of “a new energy future” for the country.

“We’ve jumpstarted a new energy industry here in the U.S., with tremendous support of the Block Island community, state and federal officials, and a number of U.S. supply chain partners who see offshore wind as a new opportunity for their business,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind.

There are some 10 additional offshore wind projects already in development off U.S. shores, and the Department of Energy estimates that there could be as much as 86 gigawatts of capacity by 2050. In Europe, there are already more than 11 GW of offshore wind capacity installed. In 2015, Denmark got nearly half of its electricity from offshore wind generation.

Offshore wind has grown dramatically over the past decade, and it is expected to continue to expand. CREDIT: International Energy Agency
Offshore wind has grown dramatically over the past decade, and it is expected to continue to expand. CREDIT: International Energy Agency

The installations come with virtually no downside. They are barely visible from shore, but, more importantly, local fisherman have said that the

Monday’s announcement speaks to the power of policy.

Not only did Block Island have high energy costs, Rhode Island also has a renewable energy standard that requires a certain amount of electricity to come from clean sources — 16 percent by 2019. The state was critical in identifying an area in state waters to auction for wind development. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has also identified two nearby areas that could ultimately provide 3,000 additional MW of wind power generation.

Environmentalists called on other states to look to Rhode Island as an example.

“It’s great news that the first offshore wind farm in the United States is up and running. We congratulate Rhode Island on this historic achievement. However, this is also a clear missed opportunity for the Commonwealth to be a leader in clean energy,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Dominion purchased Virginia’s sole offshore wind development lease in 2013, but has been dragging its feet since then. It didn’t include offshore wind in its Integrated Resource Plan and has never presented state regulators with a plan to provide offshore wind energy to Virginia customers,” Addleson lamented.

Approvals processes in some places have taken more than a decade, as utilities and regulators struggle to introduce a new way of getting power. For now, though, Block Island residents can rest assured that their electricity just got a lot cleaner.