It will be small by European standards, but the five-turbine Deepwater Wind project off Rhode Island’s coast is a first in North America and construction is now underway.
On Sunday, the steel foundation for the first turbine was plucked from a transport barge by the Weeks 533, the largest floating revolving crane on the East Coast, and lowered into the waters off Block Island, the Providence Journal reported. The assembly, which weighs about 440 tons, will be pinned to the ocean floor with piles as long as 200 feet.
Jeffrey Grybowski, head of the Providence, Rhode Island, based company, said “it was a very big moment” in the project.
“Our belief is once Block Island is up and running, it will bring offshore wind from theory to reality in the United States and open up opportunities to build larger projects,” he told Reuters.
There are now nearly 2,500 offshore turbines connected to the European grid, but efforts to develop deepwater turbines in the U.S. have been hampered by both cost and aesthetic concerns as well as worries about their impact on ocean life.
The Deepwater project is about three miles off the coast of Block Island, a summer tourist destination, Reuters reported. When compete by the end of 2016, the 30-megawatt wind farm will send about 90% of the electricity it generates to the mainland via undersea cables. National Grid will buy it for 26 cents per kilowatt hour and mix it with the rest of the state’s electricity supply. The output will equal about 1% of the state’s total electricity supply.
On Block Island, originally chosen for the project because of its reliance on diesel-fired generators for its power, electric rates are expected to drop by 40% when the project comes online.
Off to a slow start
A much larger wind project, the 130-turbine Cape Wind, has been proposed for federally owned waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in Nantucket Sound. With a total capacity of 468 megawatts, according to the developers, the wind farm would be capable of producing 75% of the electricity used on Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Construction was due to start by May 1, according to a report in The Boston Globe, but developers asked the state for a two-year extension after the state’s two major utilities backed out of plans to buy electricity from the project.
Construction will cost an estimated $2.6 billion.
Cape Wind has “repeatedly” needed deadline extensions over its 14-year history, the Globe reported, and the project has been the target of intense opposition from offshore wind critics. They include groups like Save Our Sound, whose website lists a variety of economic and environmental reasons why the project should be blocked.
The ultimate fate of the project is anyone’s guess.