First Ever US Offshore Wind Farm Gets First “Steel In Water,” No Turning Back Now

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Offshore wind energy has been off to a slow start in the US, a primary obstacle being the confluence of entrenched fossil energy and powerful political influence up and down the Atlantic coast. And yet, despite all odds, the tiny state of Rhode Island somehow slipped under the radar. This past winter, workers down in Louisiana began stealthily assembling the main components for a new wind farm, and just this month they snuck out in the dead of night to plant a 400-ton steel foundation jacket on the floor of the ocean, three miles off the coast of Block Island. Bam!

Okay, so we made up that thing about stealth. But we’re still scratching our heads over how Rhode Island — the smallest state in the US by area — has managed to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge around some very formidable obstacles.

US offshore wind energy Rhode Island

The Block Island Offshore Wind Farm

CleanTechnica has been following the progress of the Block Island wind farm since April 2012, after the company Deepwater Wind acquired the rights to develop the area through the Interior Department’s first ever competitive offshore wind energy lease program.

By October of that year, Deepwater had completed its environmental and economic statements, and last year we noted that the proposed 30-MW (megawatt) offshore wind farm would be the first “stepping stone” in a whole series of offshore wind developments for Rhode Island, adding up to 1,000 MW.

This year the pace has really picked up, and Deepwater closed on its final financing arrangements early in May.

A recent USA Today article about the new wind farm provides a hint about how Rhode Island succeeded where others failed. It looks like Deepwater picked its spot strategically. Here’s Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski cited by reporter Bill Loveless:

“The key is to find a location that has the fewest conflicts and makes the most sense,” he said, acknowledging that Deepwater Wind faced some opposition in Rhode Island, including businesses that sued unsuccessfully to stop the project. “This location has a lot of support.”

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All that planning paid off. Deepwater organized a press event yesterday to celebrate this new milestone in US offshore wind energy, attended by such luminaries as Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo and  US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

One down and four to go. When this phase of the work is completed later this summer, there will be five foundation installations for five wind turbines, which are expected to be the tallest of their kind in the world.

The next major step will occur in spring 2016, when an underwater transmission cable will be laid. Shortly after that, the company Alstom will deliver five of its Haliade 6-MW turbines. Here’s the full timeline:

Block Island Wind Farm timeline

The whole thing is expected to be up and running before the end of the year.

A Long, Hard Slog For US Offshore Wind Energy

Easy as pie, right? Elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast, it’s been a different story.

The biggest fish to get away was the proposed Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, which among other issues became mired in a NIMBY fight largely funded by a member of the Koch industrial family (not David or Charles, who have become known for high-stakes fossil energy lobbying, including climate change denial — it was William, the “invisible” Koch). Just when the sky seemed to be clearing, the money ran out early this year and the project appears to be dead.

Moving south to New Jersey, we find the Fishermen’s Energy offshore wind farm still battling the headwinds.

New Jersey signed on to the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium in 2010, as part of an Interior Department initiative to coordinate offshore wind energy among the states.

However, in 2011 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was caught on tape pledging loyalty to the Koch lobbying efforts, and it seems that the man is as good as his word.

Aside from not following through on the Consortium, Christie personally pulled the plug on the long-planned ARC mass transit rail tunnel. His administration also withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (apparently an illegal move, but whatevs), and is dragging its heels on a regional electric vehicle initiative.

As for Fishermen’s Energy, the good news is that the Obama Administration tried to give the project a nudge forward, by awarding it a $47 million Energy Department grant aimed at encouraging the development of innovative offshore wind solutions.

The bad news is that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities summarily denied approval for the project (despite a 2010 state law requiring the agency to promote offshore wind development, no project has gotten through the process).

The last we heard, Fishermen’s Energy was taking their case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, so wish them luck.

It’s a similar story all along the Atlantic coast, but things could be on the verge of turning around. The Obama Administration has been leasing out more offshore sites for wind energy development, and the job-creating success of the Block Island project is providing a strong case for wind, even as seven Atlantic governors lobby for offshore oil and gas development.

Atlantic City, where the Fishermen’s Energy project is to be located, sure could use some more economic activity after being hit by another wave of casino closings…

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Image (screenshot): via Deepwater Wind.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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