When Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm flipped the switch on its five turbines last month, Block Island received 90 percent of its electricity needs from the wind instead of diesel fuel.
Remarkably, Block Island’s usage represents only about 10 percent of the electricity generated by the first offshore wind farm in the United States, with the rest being sent through underwater transmission cables 16 miles to mainland Rhode Island.
The sight of five massive towers lined up three miles off the island suggests that one day, not too far into the future, hundreds, even thousands, of trips to massive wind farms south of Martha’s Vineyard will originate from the Islands, Falmouth and Hyannis.
In Rhode Island, coordination and cooperation among municipalities, progressive state legislators and administrations of both parties, and leadership from Congress and the White House, have created a model for the buildout of an industry that can advance national security, bring prosperity to New England (especially Massachusetts), and dramatically change our economy.
The ironworkers union worked cooperatively with Louisiana steelworkers to fabricate the structures from the ocean floor to 70 feet above the ocean, as well as platforms inside the structures ascending to the nacelles and blades. Once the Massachusetts parcels begin their development, we will witness a new scale of activity, as the infrastructure turns to the deployment of not five towers, but hundreds. And there will be more than just union jobs available.
Where it took 300 workers to build five turbines off Block Island, it will take thousands over the years to build out just the Deepwater Wind Massachusetts parcel. There are two other companies with leases south of Martha’s Vineyard, and there are three more parcels to be auctioned.
There will soon be another federal lease off Long Island, and states on the East Coast from the Carolinas to Maine are paying more than mere attention to Deepwater’s turbines off Block Island. Massachusetts is way ahead of those other states, with 1,600 megawatts written into legislation for competitive power purchase agreements and united political support.
The milestone reached between the three developers and the commonwealth’s Clean Energy Center demonstrates that the benefits of the landmark legislation that underpinned the commonwealth’s energy bill – the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 – are accelerating. As noted by the wind companies in a press release from the state, Massachusetts jobs have been created already; innovation is driving down the cost of energy generation, and, therefore, the cost to consumers; and electricity will be generated soon by offshore wind.
Moreover, private green investment expands exponentially at the expense of fossil fuel industries, and innovations yet undiscovered might still yield methods for removing the excess carbon from the atmosphere, and bring it below the threshold levels now responsible for this unfamiliar climate.
The work is nowhere near done, but we can praise the vision and persistence that brought us to this point.
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