The United States' First Offshore Wind Farm Powers Up

A new era for renewable energy begins, with many similar offshore wind installations on the way

By Paul Rauber

December 12, 2016

Block Island Wind Farm array

Photo courtesy of Deepwater Wind

For the past 80 years, a noisy, dirty diesel generator—dependent on fuel shipped from the mainland—has supplied electric power for Block Island's thousand residents off Rhode Island. Now that generator could be turned off courtesy of Deepwater Wind’s five 6-megawatt turbines, which spun into commercial operation just off the coast today. The project will completely power Block Island, with excess energy transmitted by undersea cable to the mainland.

“I’m proud to be the only governor in America who can say we have steel in the water and blades spinning over the ocean,” said Rhode Island governor Gina M. Raimondo. “We’re motivated by our shared belief that we need to produce and consume cleaner, more sustainable energy and leave our kids a healthier planet—but also by this tremendous economic opportunity. With this project, we’ve put hundreds of our local workers to work at sea and at our world-class ports and are growing this innovative industry.”

First proposed in 2008, the Block Island project didn't actually begin construction until April 2015. Its 240-foot-long turbine blades arrived from Denmark in June, but the rest of the fabrication was done partly in Louisiana (which is experienced with offshore platforms) and mostly in Rhode Island, which hopes to become a hub for a growing U.S. offshore wind industry. In November, Deepwater Wind announced plans for the 120-megawatt Skipjack Wind Farm, to be located 17 nautical miles off the Maryland coast. The company is also in the early stages of planning for a 90-megawatt facility 30 miles east of Montauk, New York.

“From this day forward, our coastal cities and towns need to look no further than their seacoasts to find clean, renewable energy that can be fed directly into their communities, which will not only help protect families from the dangers of fossil fuel pollution on their air and water quality, but also combat climate disruption,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. “We’re confident that the Block Island wind farm is just the beginning of our offshore wind industry in the United States and are excited for the jobs and opportunities it will bring as we see more development along our coasts.”