Until this week, all of the wind power generated in the United States was landlocked.
But in a first for America, the ocean breeze is now generating clean, renewable power offshore — electricity that will supply a small island community off the coast of Rhode Island. Renewable energy, including from offshore wind, is crucial to the effort to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change, according to environmentalists and some elected officials.
On Monday, the country’s first offshore wind farm, developed by a company called Deepwater Wind and helped along by the state’s political leadership, started spinning its turbines to bring electricity to Block Island, a vacation destination with few year-round residents that had previously relied on diesel-fueled generators for power.
“This is a historic milestone for reducing our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s happening here in the Ocean State,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and co-founder of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, said in a statement from Deepwater Wind.
Though the Block Island Wind Farm is small — made up of five turbines, which were built by a division of General Electric, and capable of powering about 17,000 homes — it is the first successful offshore wind development in the United States, and it sets up the possibility for offshore wind projects elsewhere along the coast.
According to a spokeswoman for Deepwater Wind, about 90 percent of the island’s needs will be met by the wind-generated power, and more will go back to the grid. Current estimates are that the wind farm will supply 1 percent of the state’s electricity, the spokeswoman said.
Despite its modest size, the wind farm, which cost about $300 million to build, still represents a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions — about 40,000 tons per year.
Deepwater Wind will receive a federal tax credit for the project, and first-year rates for Rhode Island customers of National Grid, the utility company laying one of the cables to the wind farm, may be higher than what customers currently pay.
Environmentalists, members of the Obama administration and government officials in several states see significant potential for offshore wind energy, given that winds over the ocean usually blow stronger and more steadily than those on land.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced a lease for a wind farm off the coast of Long Island, and the Department of Energy has said that if wind farms were built in all of the suitable areas, including in the Great Lakes, they could provide up to twice as much electricity as the country now uses.
In the past, offshore wind farms have faced significant opposition in the United States for a few reasons: high costs, complicated rules about who gets to build on the seafloor and what they build, and complaints from people who do not want their ocean view obstructed…
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