Catching the Wind

May 2015
By:
Amber Hewett, Northeast Climate Program Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation
Offshore Wind Power: The start of something "New"

Sailing to Block Island this summer? Get ready to see history in the making! The foundations for America’s first offshore wind power project will be installed three miles off the southeast bluff of Block Island in the coming months, putting the project on track to generate energy for the entire island in 2016 and beyond.

The Block Island Wind Farm will relieve a community in need of a new energy story. Every year, Block Island uses one million gallons of diesel fuel, sent via ferry, to run the generator that fully supports their electric grid. And as a result, locals endure some of the highest electric rates in the country. The costly and inefficient operation spikes the cost of every facet of life on Block Island. And the constant pollution and looming risk of a fuel spill endangers the pristine and otherwise protected resources that attract thousands of tourists every summer. The 5 state-of-the-art offshore wind turbines will produce 30 megawatts of clean energy powering approximately 17,000 homes. The project will connect Block Island to the mainland for the first time and reduce local electric rates by more than 40 percent.

Most notably, the Block Island Wind Farm is a pilot project. 1/3 of the US Population lives along the Atlantic Coastline – making it easy to get clean energy to 106 million people if this technology is further developed. Ramping up offshore wind power offers a clear opportunity to reduce local pollution as well as energy prices. For example, the 2014 analysis of bringing 1,200 MW of offshore wind power to New England found that local carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by over 3 million tons annually!

We have reason to believe this one small project will be a catalyst for something much larger – so as ocean users, we ought to learn about what’s on deck!

East Coast Energy Gold Mine
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that 1,300 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy is available in the Atlantic Ocean, with approximately 212 GW – as much as is produced by more than 200 average coal-fired power plants – accessible in shallow waters using current technology. 

The Unique Benefits of Offshore Wind Power 

Despite the fact that there is yet to be a single offshore wind turbine in U.S. waters, there are actually more than 70 fully operating offshore wind projects worldwide. Over the past 24 years, since the first project was installed in Denmark, 11 countries have embraced the unmatched benefits of offshore wind power.

Choosing to advance offshore wind power is a choice to protect the ocean from air and water pollution. Strategically developing our offshore wind power resources will replace the region’s dominant reliance on dirty sources of energy with one that is local, non-polluting, and inexhaustible. As if that isn’t reason enough to jump on board… A significant national commitment to offshore wind power will help protect wildlife and future generations from the dangerous impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

The industry will create long-term, high-quality jobs for both inland and coastal communities. Offshore wind power already supports more than 60,000 employees around the world with jobs including manufacturing, construction, engineering, operations, and maintenance. Deepwater Wind announced in April that their Block Island Wind Farm alone will create more than 300 construction jobs in Rhode Island!

Offshore wind power offers coastal regions an unmatched opportunity to stimulate local economies. Diversifying our energy profile will put us on track to a prosperous and independent energy future. Advanced technology is at-the-ready, poised to change the way we fuel our lives and the environmental legacy we leave to those who follow us.

Strong measures are needed to ensure the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales is protected throughout all stages of offshore energy development.
Strong measures are needed to ensure the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales is protected throughout all stages of offshore energy development.

3 Surprising Facts about Offshore Wind Power

After the Block Island Wind Farm is built, no future U.S. offshore wind development will likely be visible from shore. (Block Island’s turbines will only appear to be the height of your thumb on the horizon.) This is because the better wind is further offshore and – one of the benefits of getting in the game two decades late – turbine size and efficiency has advanced dramatically since the first wind farm was built.

The supply of offshore wind energy matches our demand. America’s coastal cities host dense populations and strained energy markets – with very few local, utility-scale sources of energy. Consider this: the wind far off the Atlantic Coast of Long Island is some of the best in the world for offshore wind power development, capable of providing energy for many thousands of homes and businesses. And not only is offshore wind power where we need it, it’s also producing the most power when we need it: during summer afternoons, heat waves, and winter cold snaps.

Offshore wind power can be developed in a manner that protects wildlife and their habitats throughout every stage of siting, construction, and operation – for that, the environmental community is united in support for offshore wind power. Properly locating turbines combined with best management practices minimize or prevent impacts on birds, bats, sea turtles, and marine mammals – and all species benefit from cleaner air and water and cutting the carbon pollution that causes climate change and ocean acidification.

Sailors Can Bring a Unique Voice to the Conversation

It will come as no surprise to Northeast sailors that when considering Block Island’s dependence on a diesel generator, offshore wind power rose to the top. Sailors have been harnessing that breeze for generations. And there is an important distinction that highlights the unique perspective the sailing community has to offer. Offshore wind power celebrates an abundant resource that sailors know and deeply value. It carries us to and from our favorite coastal communities, and allows us to take part in an activity that has been around for thousands of years.  Carefully placing wind turbines far offshore begins to move us toward a future in which more and more of our daily lives reflect the stewardship inherent to sailing.

 flickr, Alex Berger
Britain’s Royal Yachting Association published a position paper in 2013, simply stating that, “navigating around static hazards is part of sailing and only in rare situations, such as in narrow channels with strong tidal flows, do static installations pose a threat.”

 

Take Action

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action
  • Talk about it! One of the biggest challenges facing offshore wind power in the U.S. is its absence. It’s not on our national radar. You can help change that. Share this article, write a letter to the editor in your local paper, and talk to your families, friends, and coworkers about the importance of bringing this clean energy solution online.
  • Take Sailors for the Sea’s No Trash. No Trail. No Trace. (NT3) Pledge to learn how to reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Learn more about the National Wildlife Federation’s work to advance responsibly sited offshore wind power at www.NWF.org/OffshoreWind and read their extended report on this topic: Catching the Wind.
  • Learn more about the six year process that Deepwater Wind engaged in to work with all interested stakeholders, securing all necessary state and federal permitting, and project financing. They even delayed construction to protect endangered whales and agreed to include whale protections in plans for their larger project far offshore!
  • Voice your support! Elected leaders in your state and in Washington, DC need to hear from you. Send an email, make a phone call, or use social media (yes, your Governor tweets!) to let them know that you want them to bring offshore wind power online in your state.