The Way the Offshore Wind Blows – 9/9/16

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the United States’ first offshore wind farm that will provide power to Block Island, a small island off the coast of Rhode Island.

Under a 20-year agreement with regional utility National Grid, the developer Deepwater Wind will receive about 24 cents per kilowatt hour for the power generated by the turbines, with guaranteed increases over time. The average Rhode Islander pays only about 18.69 cents, but Block Island is not connected to the mainland electricity grid. Without anyone willing to build a mainland connection, the islanders use a network of diesel generators susceptible to rolling blackouts as seen after a recent fire.

Block Island’s town council and residents association backed the project on promises that it would reduce reliance on diesel generators, combat climate change, and finally bring a mainland power connection, that will include fiber-optic cable to improve notoriously slow Internet speeds.

Though small compared to the 1500 MW goal of Denmark, the 30 MW project will provide enough energy to power about 17,000 homes. Its size was chosen mostly to avoid the fate of the Cape Wind project off Martha’s Vineyard, which withered under legal challenges and controversy. The project’s developers have expressed hope that a small success could set a path for more ambitious work. And they may soon see just that.

The departments of Energy and Interior are planning a joint effort to support offshore wind farms over the next five years, according to a statement. The report accompanying the statement projected that increasing the scale of the industry would help offshore wind become competitive in some areas by 2025, with a cost of less than $100 a megawatt-hour. The plan is to add as much as 86,000 MW of wind power which, in turn, would support 160,000 jobs, reduce the amount of water consumed by U.S. power plants by 5%, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8%, the Energy Department said.

A dozen commercial offshore wind leases have already been signed off on by the federal government as the Obama administration pushes clean power in its final year. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law requiring utilities to buy a combined 1,600 MW of offshore wind power in response to increasing interest in the power source. New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has also announced a plan to have half the state’s power come from renewable energy sources by 2030, much of which could wind up coming from offshore wind.  Deepwater Wind, the company behind the Block Island project is already proposing 15-turbine wind farm off the eastern coast of Long Island as part of its long-term plan to supply parts of New York and Massachusetts.

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