AMERICA'S FIRST OFFSHORE WIND FARM IS A BIG DEAL FOR THE U.S. ENERGY INDUSTRY...

The first of five U.S. offshore wind turbines at a new project near Block Island, Rhode Island, Aug. 4, 2016. Image: Deepwater wind

 

The pair of 600-foot towers rising off the eastern U.S. coast marks a historic achievement for the country’s energy industry..

The two towers, installed near Rhode Island last week, are the first-ever offshore wind energy turbines to go up in U.S. waters. Deepwater Wind, the project’s developer, said it expects to install the last three towers by the end of August.

“It’s a very exciting time for us, and it’s a very anxious time,” Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, told Mashable. “We’re very proud to be leading the way in this new renewable energy industry for the United States.”

America’s first offshore wind farm arrives after more than a decade of fits and starts in the fledgling industry. A handful of proposed projects were either canceled or delayed in recent years as developers failed to raise enough funding, faced regulatory hurdles or waged legal battles.

But Deepwater Wind’s Rhode Island wind farm managed to push ahead, thanks largely to its small size, which made it less risky and costly compared to bigger proposals.

The $300 million, five-turbine project sits just three miles off the coast of Block Island. When completed, it will have the capacity to produce 30 megawatts of wind energy — enough to power roughly 17,000 typical households on Block Island and the mainland.

“Block Island is that success that we think is going to unlock many, many additional projects.”

A typical U.S. coal plant, by contrast, has a 500-megawatt capacity, about 16 times more than the offshore wind farm. However, the wind farm has the advantage of avoiding planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Deepwater Wind first proposed the Block Island project in 2008. Construction on the turbines and underground sea cables started last year, and the wind farm could finally start producing power this fall, Grybowski said

An offshore wind farm near Grimbsy, England.

An offshore wind farm near Grimbsy, England. Image: Getty Images

Despite the U.S. milestone, the country still has far to go before it can catch up to Europe or China, whose offshore wind industries are years in the making.

In Europe, more than 3,200 offshore turbines are producing around 11,000 megawatts in clean electricity, according to the European Wind Energy Association. China has hundreds of offshore wind turbines, with plans to grow the sector 30-fold by 2020.

America’s land-based wind sector, however, is growing exponentially. 

The U.S. has more than 48,800 land-based wind turbines that together can produce nearly 74,000 megawatts of clean power, the American Wind Energy Association, the industry's leading trade group, said.

America's nearly 74,000 megawatts in wind capacity is enough to power roughly 20 million average U.S. households in a year.

America's nearly 74,000 megawatts in wind capacity is enough to power roughly 20 million average U.S. households in a year.Image: American wind energy association

Grybowski said he hoped the success of Deepwater Wind’s new wind farm could help revive the U.S. offshore wind sector and encourage other developers to keep moving forward. 

“The industry was really stuck in this difficult limbo of not being able to advance until someone achieved a success,” he said. 

“Block Island is that success that we think is going to unlock many, many additional projects.”

 

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David Pike, Editor