U.S. will finally get its first offshore wind farm this year

block island wind farm
© GE

Almost as long as I've been covering green tech, the Block Island Wind Farm has been in the works. The project, first approved by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission in 2010, was seen as a smaller-scale pilot project that could prove the feasibility of offshore wind power generation in the U.S.

Six years later, it will be a 30-MW installation that will provide most of the power needs of Block Island, an island off Rhode Island that currently gets its electricity from diesel generators.

The project was initially planned for completion in 2012, but set backs and plan changes have delayed it. GE, the makers of the five 6-MW “Haliade” turbines that will make up the project, has just announced that the wind farm is on target to be up and running by the end of the year. Even with the delays, it will be the first completed offshore wind farm in the country.

The five wind turbines, each twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty and with a diameter of double the size of a 747 Jumbo jet wingspan, will be able to generate about 125,000 MWh of electricity, or enough to meet 90 percent of Block Island's energy needs. They will be located three miles offshore of Block Island and underwater transmission cables will connect them to the island and mainland Rhode Island where excess energy will go to the grid.

Sections of the towers are being built in Providence, but other components are being made in Europe and will be shipped and assembled on site in the last part of the year.

Although it's much later than desired, this project is an important step forward in getting offshore wind power in America. There is enormous untapped wind energy potential off the U.S. coasts. In fact, it's estimated that offshore wind could meet all of the energy demands of the entire East Coast if 140,000 5 MW wind turbines were installed at varying distances and depths from Maine to Florida.

The East Coast makes up one-third of the nation's total energy needs, so that's pretty significant. There are other East Coast projects in the pipeline, including the embattled Cape Wind project in Massachusetts which was originally thought to become the country's first.

U.S. will finally get its first offshore wind farm this year
The long-awaited Block Island Wind Farm is set to be completed in 2016.

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