Does America's First Commercial Offshore Wind Farm Portend a Clean Energy Revolution?
Does America's First Commercial Offshore Wind Farm Portend a Clean Energy Revolution?.Photo: . Pictures may be protected by copyright.
In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Slashdot reader Dan Drollette describes visiting one of North America's biggest experiments in renewable energy, off the coast of Rhode Island. As the only commercial offshore wind farm in North America,
In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Slashdot reader Dan Drollette describes visiting one of North America's biggest experiments in renewable energy, off the coast of Rhode Island. As the only commercial offshore wind farm in North America, Block Island is "setting the stage for what could be a rapid explosion in the number of commercial offshore windmills on the entire East Coast of the United States, assuming they leap the latest set of ever-changing legal hurdles set by fossil-fuel friendly regulators in Washington, DC."The goal of the Block Island test wind farm -- which started construction in the summer of 2015 and started generating some power in December 2016 -- is to see if it is technologically, environmentally, and scientifically possible to transfer offshore wind power technology from Europe to North America.. This five-turbine, 30-megawatt endeavor has been effectively acting as a multi-year, real-world experiment in offshore wind power for the United States, paving the way for offshore wind farms on the northeast coast and the mid-Atlantic that could each be as much as 600 times the size of this test site, with hundreds of turbines generating electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes from just one full-scale, industrial-sized wind farm. There are more than a dozen large offshore "wind lease areas" suitable for wind farms currently up for bid from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, stretching from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Massachusetts alone is soliciting contracts for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind development (half have now been sold), which is more than 50 times the size of this pilot project off of Block Island.. Once it is built and running, the Massachusetts project off Martha's Vineyard alone will provide enough energy to power at least 230,000 households, or about a third of the state's residential energy demand. Other states are working on a similar gargantuan scale. All told, there are 28 offshore wind projects in the works on the East Coast, with a total capacity of 24 gigawatts, or 24,000 megawatts. To give a sense of the massive size of the generating power of the wind farms now in the works, the first commercial civilian nuclear reactor in the United States -- Massachusetts' Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station, now decommissioned -- generated just 185 megawatts at its peak. But after decades of false starts and tangled litigation, a sea change appears to be occurring for offshore wind in the United States, as this country races to catch up with Northern Europe, where this renewable energy source has become increasingly mainstream and increasingly cheap.. And these offshore wind projects could have a big impact on the environment. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the newly contracted wind farms would offset carbon emissions equivalent to removing about 270,000 cars from the road. They could play a key role in reducing the region's climate change footprint, while allowing the New England economy to grow.. Consequently, this handful of windmills in one test plot have been closely watched, studied, and debated, from multiple points of view, by many different "stakeholders," as the parlance goes -- including Wall Street analysts, investment firms, engineers, economists, sociologists, fisheries experts, environmental activists, historic preservationists, ornithologists, marine mammal biologists, Native American tribes, scallopers, long-liners, oystermen, sport fisherman, real estate investors, the tourism industry, and homeowners.And, of course, lawyers. Many, many lawyers.. The article notes that often windmill power companies "can piggyback on existing infrastructure, in the form of the high-tension power lines built for decommissioned nuclear plants or retired coal-fired plants such as the 1,500 megawatt Brayton Point Power Station on the mainland -- the last coal-burning plant in Massachusetts, which was shut down in May 2017.." After talking to several locals, he concludes that "If there is a common thread to the comments, it is that the windmills are quiet and distant, and that with a steady and predictable source of power, islanders no longer have to worry about blackouts or brownouts.. If nothing else, wind had turned out to be more reliable than ferrying barrels of diesel fuel to a generator located on an island 13 miles out to sea." Read more of this story at Slashdot.