Clean Power US offshore wind energy Rhode Island

Published on July 28th, 2015 | by Tina Casey


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

July 28th, 2015 by  

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.”

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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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • solarsurfer2020

    I can’t understand nimbly folks who have no opposition to the sight of nuclear reactors, sooty coal smoke stacks or oil pipelines going in 50 ft from schools, (let alone the pollution and measurable asthma attacks, Cancers amd pre mature deaths) but all the sudden when it’s windmills or solar they’re up in arms “what about the birds?” Give me a break. Drill baby drill created such great views and tourism in the Gulf Coast right

    • Larmion

      Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. The good people who fight offshore wind on the eastern seaboard would fight at least as hard against smokestacks and pipelines.

      The vast majority of them are wealthy people owning seaside holiday homes who simply reject anything that spoils the view from their home and yacht, no matter how beneficial to society at large.

      It’s not just American by the way. In Europe too, wind farms (both onshore and offshore) have rarely been built in full view of seaside resort towns. Wealthy retirees are the most formidable adversary any developer can face.

  • timbuck93

    I’m confused, why do you jump from Rhode Island to Louisiana, then back to somewhere else? It makes the article difficult for me to understand.

    • Larmion

      The foundations are built in Lousiana by Gulf Island Fabrication and then towed to Rhode Island, where the actual wind farm is.

      If that seems convoluted, remember that the Gulf states have a huge offshore engineering supply chain thanks to the offshore oil industry – something the eastern seaboard lacks.

    • mike_dyke

      You must have missed the line “Elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast, it’s been a different story.”.

      She deals with Rhode Island and then looks at what’s happened to similiar projects at different places along the coast. Makes perfect sense.

  • Lou Gage

    As a coastal resident of SC I would like to point out that locally much of the anti-offshore folks are those well to do residents with water views that do not want their views degraded. I believe also that the Kennedy family was active in their opposition to such activity in their native state.

    • Jan Veselý

      You know what’s funny? They atract tourists (suprisingly many people like those moving objects including myself) and create wildlife refugies (no industry fishing possible, oysters on pylons are loved by sea otters).

      • Omega Centauri

        But, if your money spinner is fossil fuels, then every spin of that turbine means less money for you, insult and injury at the same time.

        • Jan Veselý

          I did a little calculation, so when I see 2 MW wind turbine spinning I just say: “One pound coal less”, I can, every second. 🙂

          • Frank

            So if these are 6MW and in the ocean where it’s windier, how many pounds per second then? 🙂

          • Jan Veselý

            I use Czech lignite parametres, so approximately 1 kg of lignite = 1 kWh of electricity = 1 kg of CO2 (SI units are sooo easy).
            1 kWh = 3.6 MJ = 2 MW * 1.8 seconds = 6 MW * 0.6 seconds of full operation.
            When you assume an average CF 50% (rather low these days) then it it
            = 6 MW * 1.2 second of average operation.
            So, each offshore 6MW wind turbine may save up to 8760*3600/1.2 = 26,280,000 kg = 26,280 metric tons of coal from burning per year.

    • Coboll

      Very true. I had thought, given the vehemence of the lobbying against the Cape Wind project, that the windmills would be sitting 100 yards off the beaches. But it turned out that the closest any one windmill was to land (either the mainland or an island) was around 3 miles. So it is more like they were worried about the view from their yacht.

      • tibi stibi

        luckily most people have the posibility to move their point of view.
        so they can look around the windmills or start to like it 🙂

    • Benjamin Nead

      We’ve got rich people here in Arizona who live in sterile-looking golf
      course gated communities that get all up in arms when anyone on their block
      puts “ugly” solar PV panels on their rooftops. Clotheslines are another
      thing that gets them disgruntled. Takes all kinds.

      As for the coastal dwellers who don’t like the wind turbines spoiling their view: I wonder how they would feel about offshore oil drilling rigs out there within eyeshot instead, knowing that the petroleum companies would put them that close to the shoreline, if they were allowed to.

      • ADW

        There is no coastal oil drilling in New England, that hurt Cape Wind as they could not point to a drill rig and ask “Then why is that allowed?” It would have been much harder for the Kennedy family to be anti-wind but pro drilling in the same spot.

      • eveee

        I hate looking at hobby kneed golfers in pinstripe shorts and day glo shirts, too. Lets outlaw them. Maybe we should just sequester them all to Sun City. Oh wait. We already did.
        You beat me to it about the oil rigs.
        I hate this NIMBY out of mind out of sight mentality. They don’t care how screwed up the planet is where they can’t see it or what kind of invisible nightmares are screwing up their bodies.
        They profess to be happy as long as they are ignorant.
        Bully. They probably own homes over reclaimed Love Canal land.

    • eveee

      No problem. Give them offshore oil wells. Much prettier with blackened seabirds.

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