Steel going in the water for America’s first offshore wind farm

Next week, Deepwater Wind plans to have steel going into the water as offshore construction begins on Block Island Wind Farm, the nation’s first offshore wind project. The wind farm will provide renewable energy to an island which currently relies exclusively on diesel fuel ferried to it from the mainland.

Block Island Wind Farm will be a 30 MW, 5-turbine project in state waters three miles off the coast of Rhode Island. The wind farm is expected to save local residents up to 40 percent on energy bills, add $42 million in net benefits to Rhode Island’s economy, and lower carbon pollution by 40,000 tons per year. Local support for the project is strong.

Globally, offshore wind is a proven technology, with over 6,000 MW installed worldwide. Here in the United States, we have vast offshore wind potential and there are currently 11 projects spanning 10 states, representing 2,500 MW, in various stages of development. These projects have been proposed on the East and West Coasts and in the Great Lakes. Block Island Wind Farm could be the first of a generation of offshore wind projects that will revitalize urban ports and transform our energy supply.

Offshore wind can create well-paying jobs and attract billions in private investment

As Deepwater Wind’s experience demonstrates, the development of offshore wind projects provides business opportunities that will revitalize port economies. On a local level, Deepwater entered into an agreement with the Rhode Island Fast Ferry company for the operation of an offshore wind service vessel that will be used for construction and maintenance of Block Island Wind Farm.  The offshore wind service vessel will be built by the local company Blount Boats.  These types of opportunities in the marine trades create a demand for skilled labor in port cities. On the national level, offshore wind development provides an opportunity to harness the expertise of the Gulf of Mexico region which has extensive experience with the offshore oil and gas industry and apply that expertise to meet the demands of a promising new industry. For example, it was the Louisiana companies Keystone Engineering and Gulf Island Fabrication that designed and constructed the foundations that will be used in the Block Island Wind Farm. The foundations are currently in transit from the Gulf of Mexico to New England.

Offshore wind can help consumers in coastal communities

Offshore wind projects can play an important role in bringing down peak wholesale electricity prices.  Offshore wind projects would be located close to high-population coastal communities and the offshore wind speed profile corresponds well with periods of peak demand, i.e. during the winter and during the day in the summer. The New England Independent System Operator’s wind integration study found that 14 percent wind energy reduced electricity prices by around 10 percent, while 24 percent wind energy reduced electricity prices by 15 percent.

Offshore wind can help reduce carbon pollution for generations to come

On June 12, 2015, 50 organizations in Virginia wrote a letter to Governor McAuliffe asking for his support of offshore wind in Virginia. The letter highlighted the impact that climate change-induced sea level rise will have on Virginia coastal communities and important military installations. The letter asked Governor McAuliffe to use offshore wind as part of Virginia’s efforts to implement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which is expected to be finalized later this month.

A Wind Vision for a future with offshore wind

Additionally, as we continue to invest in this homegrown resource, its costs will continue to drop and its value to consumers will likely grow. In the land-based wind energy context, costs have decreased by more than half over the past five years. Furthermore, offshore wind provides price stability and can serve as a hedge against the volatility of fossil fuel prices. These benefits ensure that offshore wind will continue to be a part of conversations related to our nation’s energy supply portfolio for years to come. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy analyzed the future of offshore wind in the recent Wind Vision Report and described an “ambitious but credible” scenario in which offshore wind provides 22GW of electricity by 2030 and 86 GW by 2050.

In order to obtain the benefits offshore wind development provides on the scale outlined by the Wind Vision report, we need stable and long-term policies to support the growth of the offshore wind industry.  This includes extension of both the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit; the latter of which is of particular interest to the offshore wind industry.  Block Island Wind Farm is expected to be generating energy as early as the fall of 2016. The time is now to support the offshore wind industry in the United States.

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