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First Offshore Wind Farm in U.S. Begins

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

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With the first “steel in the water,” an offshore wind farm is pioneering what its owners and environmental proponents hope will be a trendsetting moment in the United States.

But analysts caution that wind farms such as the one off the shores of Block Island, RI, have a long way to go in the U.S.

Enthusiasm Over Wind

“Steel in the water off Block Island is an important step in proving that offshore wind is a viable technology off the coast of the United States,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, during a recent interview with The New York Times.

Hopper’s agency oversees leasing federal waters. According to the Times, the agency sold two leases off the coast of Massachusetts in January, plans to sell more off the New Jersey coastline by the end of 2015 and may have sites in the Carolinas, too.


A crane places the base of an offshore windmill, about 3 miles off the coast of Block Island, RI, during the first "steel in the water" event July 26.

“Having an offshore wind project that people can see and understand and study will take away a lot of the concerns that folks had,” she said.

Meanwhile, the owner of the project, Deepwater Wind, reveled in the excitement of finally seeing the bases of the large turbines lowered into the ocean floor on July 26.

“It was a very big moment,” said Jeffrey Grybowski, the CEO of the Providence-based company, in an interview with The Providence Journal.

Within minutes of the first steel being placed into the water, the Journal reported that Grybowski had tweeted a post showing the latticework about 3 miles off the island shore.

His enthusiasm was shared by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel, who also took her comments to social media and major news outlets.

“It’s great to witness a pioneering moment in U.S. history,” she told the Associated Press. “We are learning from this in what we do elsewhere. I think it will help the country understand the potential that exists here.”

Objections and False Starts

Still, analysts were quick to point out that other companies in the U.S. have not had much success in getting offshore wind farms started.

“There are many good reasons why offshore wind has not been yet developed while other renewables have in the U.S.,” said Paul Bledsoe, in an interview with the Times.

Bledsoe is an energy consultant based in Washington and former climate adviser in the Clinton White House. He noted that high cost remains a major stumbling block in starting the wind farms offshore. According to Reuters, the Block Island project is financed at $300 million.


Deepwater Wind is building five wind turbines as part of the first successful U.S. wind farm effort. The U.S. lags behind Europe and China in harnessing wind as a renewable engergy source.

“However, we’re still at a point where we have less than 10 percent renewable energy and if we are going to increase that number dramatically to somewhere near some of the major European countries, offshore wind will almost surely be part of that mix,” he said.

Europe is far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to wind farming. More than 2,500 turbines provide power to Europeans, who began harnessing the renewable energy resource in the 1990s, according to Reuters.

That’s a far cry from the five windmills that are expected to provide power to 17,000 Rhode Islanders when the Block Island project reaches completion in 2016.

And Block Island is just one success among several failures. Most notably, Cape Wind was supposed to be the first in the U.S. to put windmills in the ocean at its proposed 130-turbine farm off Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts, Reuters said. But that project has stalled in part because of the lack of local support and objections filed in court.

Delaware, New Jersey and New York also have wind farm projects that are slated, but stalled, according to the Times.

Fossil Fuels Win Cost Battle

In addition to the high cost of designing and building a wind farm, renewable energy sources also have a disadvantage when it comes to tax credits, Jewell told the Associated Press. While fossil fuel interests have tax credits in excess, renewable interests have to fight to keep the ones that they have.

Other oppositions to wind farms include environmental—specifically the effect on migrating whales and birds—and aesthetic concerns of the poles that will stand 30 feet above the water line, reports indicate.


The project, which is financed at $300 million, is one both proponents and oppositionists of wind farming are looking at to gauge the future success of U.S. wind farms.

At Block Island, the piles are being driven 200 feet into the sea. While choppy waters have been hindering the effort, reports indicate that Deepwater Wind is making progress. The turbines themselves—which are sitting in Denmark at the moment—won’t go on until next summer, according to the Times.

But getting the first steps underway comes as a relief to those who have wanted to see one of the U.S. projects begin, as the nation tries to catch up with Europe and China in harnessing wind power.

“To see it in American waters fills me with patriotic pride,” said Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, during an interview with the Associated Press.

“This idea that we could create a new industry and tens of thousands of jobs, spur manufacturing and protect wildlife, it’s just an incredible opportunity,” he said.



Tagged categories: China; Energy efficiency; Europe; Government; North America; Nuclear Power Plants; Offshore; Power; Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Steel; Steel pilings; Structural steel; Wind Farm; Wind Towers

Comment from peter gibson, (8/5/2015, 1:22 PM)

The green freaks always hide behind jobs. We have enough oil and gas. We don't need no wind.We don't need Mother Earth blighted by this rubbish to enrichen a small minority.

Comment from Rodney White, (8/6/2015, 7:36 AM)

--and a bargain at $17,647 for each of the 17,000 homes these windmills are to supply- at the estimated &300MM the project is expected to cost--whattya wanna bet the budget doubles before it's completed? ..And THOUSANDS of jobs? Doing what?

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (8/6/2015, 10:03 AM)

Yes - freaks. Consider all the jobs created by BP's oil spill...

Comment from Doug Johnson, (8/6/2015, 10:52 AM)

I am sure our government subsidized the project. So the rest of us get to pay for it and some politician claims victory for supporting such a fine project. The towers here have a 20 year life expectancy but it is going to take 25 years to pay for them. Renewable energy is fine but we should not be subsidizing it.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/7/2015, 8:31 AM)

Why shouldn't wind get subsidies? Oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear all get large subsidies. I don't see how putting up some wind towers "blights" any more than offshore oil platforms or "mountaintop removal, dump the spoils in the stream" style coal mining.

Comment from Chuck Pease, (8/7/2015, 8:55 PM)

Touche........ Tom S. Well said sir!!! Agreed

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