America’s First Offshore Wind Farm

By Guest Blogger, E. Hughes
Pembroke Hill School

Wind power generated in the United States has always been over land. That is, until the Block Island Wind Farm sprang up off the coast of Rhode Island and began operating last December. America’s first offshore wind farm, although made up of just five turbines, is generating enough clean, renewable energy from the ocean breeze to fulfill 90% of Block Island’s energy needs and provide 1% of the entire state of Rhode Island’s electricity supply.

Renewable energy sources, whether it be wind or sunlight, play a pivotal role in avoiding (or at the very least, decelerating) the most frightening impacts of climate change. The Block Island Wind Farm, developed by a company called Deepwater Wind and with the support of Rhode Island’s political leadership, stands about four miles off the coast of a small vacation island that is roughly 1.5 times the area of downtown Kansas City. Until the wind farm began operating, Block Island’s summer visitors and its 1,000 year-round residents had always relied on diesel-fueled generators for power. With the introduction of this new, clean energy source capable of powering 17,000 homes and completely eliminating the island’s dependence on fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions are projected to decrease by approximately 40,000 tons each year. Over the farm’s 20 year lifespan, it will lower carbon dioxide emissions by 800,000 tons, which is the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road. Additionally, the Block Island Wind Farm is expected to save Block Islanders as much as 40% on energy bills. Similar gains have long ago been realized on the other side of the Atlantic, as the introduction of thousands of wind turbines across Europe produced an additional 3,000 megawatts of wind power last year alone–which is about 100 times the amount of power produced by the Block Island farm.

Given that ocean winds tend to blow more heavily and steadily than wind over land, many environmentalists see potential for offshore wind energy. The Block Island Wind Farm, despite its meager size, has set up the possibility for offshore wind projects to be erected elsewhere along the US coast. Deepwater Wind, along with other offshore wind companies, have ambitious plans for wind farms off the New England coast that are up to 40 times the size of the Block Island farm and producing up to 33 times the amount of clean energy. However, advocates for offshore wind farms have been met with serious opposition, based largely on the high costs, disputes over who has rights to build what on the seafloor, and complaints from vacationers who do not want their ocean view obstructed by 300-foot steel towers. In fact, construction of the five turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm cost $300 million alone. The future for wind energy in America looks bleak under President Trump, who expressed his skepticism in an interview with New York Times, claiming that “the wind is a very deceiving thing.” Leadership in Trump’s Department of Energy has suggested that the Trump administration might be looking to abolish all energy subsidies. Trump also fought vigorously (to no avail) to prevent the construction of a wind farm off the coast of one of his Scottish golf courses.

For now, only time will tell if America will readjust its priorities to follow Europe’s lead in clean energy. If Americans do grow more comfortable with the idea of wind turbines in our waters, and if wind farms are erected in all suitable waters (including in the Great Lakes), wind turbines could provide up to twice as much energy as the country now uses, according to the Department of Energy. In 2015, primary energy consumption in the US totaled 100,000,000,000,000,000 Btu, or 16,389 million barrels of oil equivalent. With the implementation of wind farms all around the US coast and in the US lakes, 200,000,000,000,000,000 Btu of clean, renewable energy could be produced, and carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by millions and millions of metric tons each year. Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the future, the Block Island Wind Farm is a step in the right direction and a cause for celebration among all.

Deepwater Wind’s page: