The Block Island Wind Farm, a 30 megawatt (or million watt) installment off the Rhode Island coast, went into regular operation Monday – marking the beginning of a bonafide new source of electricity in the United States. Although countries like Britain and China have many of them, this is the first fully operational U.S. offshore wind farm installment.
It comes just after the election of Donald Trump, who has tried to stop an offshore wind farm that he said obscured the view from one of his Scottish golf courses, and even as the Trump transition team at the Department of Energy posed a controversial list of 74 questions to the agency, including the following: “What is the Department’s role with respect to the development of offshore wind?”
According to the New York Times, Trump, shortly after his election, spoke with British politician Nigel Farage and “encouraged Mr. Farage and his entourage to oppose the kind of offshore wind farms that Mr. Trump believes will mar the pristine view from one of his two Scottish golf courses.”
The Block Island project consists of five large offshore turbines supplied by GE Renewable Energy, and is operated by Deepwater Wind. It drew some local resistance – including complaints about viewscapes – but has the backing of Rhode Island’s governor, Gina M. Raimondo.
BLOCK ISLAND RESIDENTS DIVIDED
On Block Island itself, which has about 1,000 full-time residents who relied on diesel generators, some residents said not only that the turbines damaged the view but that the resulting electricity would be too pricey. Others supported the installation.
“We’ve been running on diesel generators for 80 years,” Norris Pike, told The Washington Post this year. “It’s time to turn them off.”
“Taking offshore wind from a theoretical thing to a reality is what Block Island has done,” Deepwater Wind’s chief executive, Jeff Grybowski, said in an interview with The Post. “As the first project to cross the finish line, it’s really proven that offshore wind can be done in the United States. It has proven that the industry – and Deepwater as a company – can do what we say we can do.”
He said that on an annual basis, the five turbines off Block Island should be able to produce enough electricity to power about 17,000 households. The company already is working on a 90 megawatt project to be located off the east end of Long Island, which Grybowski said could be operational in about five years and could would be the nation’s second offshore wind farm. Deepwater was also one of multiple companies that have proposed another project about 17 miles off the shore of Ocean City, Md.
NATIONAL POLICY NOT THE DRIVER
Grybowski said he doesn’t worry that a Trump administration would do much to upend the growth of offshore wind.
“Our business is driven principally by what is happening in very individual markets. It’s not driven very much by national policy,” he said.
He acknowledged that any company hoping to build turbines offshore needs an array of state and federal permitting approvals. But he said that traditionally has been more of a legal process than one dictated by politics. “I don’t worry about our ability to get through that process,” he said.
And yet it does appear that an unsympathetic administration could pose some hurdles. How do we know? Just ask the super gung-ho Obama administration.
The administration recently published a national strategy to advance the industry, a joint document by the Departments of Energy and the Interior. That document noted that it would be particularly important to ensure “efficiency, consistency and clarity in the regulatory process” for offshore wind, overseen by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at the Interior Department. That department will soon be in the Trump administration’s hands.
“Further work can be done to improve consistency and identify and reduce unnecessary burdens in BOEM’s existing regulatory process,” noted the Obama national strategy for offshore wind. “This may include establishing more predictable review timelines and maintaining a reasonable level of flexibility given the early stage of the industry’s development.”
There are 10 other “active commercial leases” for U.S. offshore wind projects, according to the Energy and Interior Department report. The Department of Energy, under Obama, forecast that by 2050, the United States could see 86 gigawatts (or billion watts) of offshore wind capacity installed.
Another lease sale by BOEM is planned for Thursday for the rights to develop a huge offshore windfarm between New York and New Jersey. Groups representing the fishing industry in four states sought to delay the auction. But an agreement between the groups and BOEM will allow it to proceed.
Onshore wind is already a booming industry in the country, providing about 5 percent of the nation’s electricity. But Trump has been critical of this energy source as well, saying wind turbines “kill all the birds.” Fact checkers have actually pointed out that while birds are killed by wind turbines, they face a much greater threat from cats and flying into buildings.