Block Island Wind Farm Gives Business Leaders a “Glimpse into the Future”

NWF   |   November 8, 2017

Just before the winds chilled for fall’s late arrival, business leaders from across the Northeast got out on the water to tour America’s first five offshore wind turbines. Since its construction in 2016, the Block Island Wind Farm has taken the region’s offshore wind power conversation to new heights – simply with the opportunity to see and feel the immensity of this resource in action. The National Wildlife Federation partnered with the Northeast Clean Energy Council, RENEW-Northeast, and the New York Offshore Wind Alliance to fill a boat with folks at the forefront of business and innovation, to share with them why we are inspired by the potential of offshore wind power, and to hopefully grow the community calling for its responsible development.

North Atlantic Right Whale. Photo by New England Aquarium, Collected under NMFS permit 14233

Once we arrived alongside the turbines, everyone poured out onto the deck for a guided tour by project developer Deepwater Wind’s Matt Morrissey. The story of this trail-blazing project is ripe with models to follow and lessons to learn from. It is one we at NWF have been proud to support, due to Deepwater Wind’s commitment to protecting wildlife every step of the way, even adjusting their construction schedule to avoid disrupting the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (click here to learn more about NWF’s work to ensure that all offshore wind development in U.S. waters meets the highest standards of wildlife protection). As always, the Block Island Wind Farm sparked smiles and selfies, questions about how it happened, and discussions of where to go from here.

A few reactions from folks on board:

JD Chesloff, Executive Director, Massachusetts Business Roundtable:

“I used to be somewhat of a skeptic, not of the science of offshore wind or of the importance of clean energy to our environment, but of its ability to be a cost effective piece of the region’s energy mix.  Then I learned about the incredible advances in technology, better understood both the economics of offshore wind and potential for this industry in Massachusetts, and on this trip saw first-hand the enormous and powerful scale of the turbines.  I am now convinced that offshore wind not only should be part of the solution to our regional energy needs, it has to be.”

Janet Gail Besser, Executive Vice President, Northeast Clean Energy Council:

Janet Gail Besser. Photo by Ryan Conaty

“It was a pleasure to showcase this first-of-its-kind clean energy project to dozens of business leaders in our region. This tour gave us an up-close perspective on the energy source that has the potential to put the Northeast at the beginning of the energy pipeline rather than the end. By harnessing the Northeast’s offshore wind potential we can truly fuel a clean energy economy that provides businesses and residents with clean, sustainable energy while driving economic development in our region.”

Tony Sheridan, President & CEO, Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut

Tony Sheridan (right). Photo by Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT

“I was delighted to be part of the up-close tour of America’s first five offshore wind turbines located off the shore of Block Island. The beautifully designed mills are a wonderful way to harness the unlimited source of wind to produce clean renewable energy. Additionally, wind farms have enormous potential for growing a new industry and creating new high paying jobs. The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut encourages and supports this important effort.”

Matthew Willner, Senior Associate, State Policy, Ceres:

Matthew Willner. Photo by Ceres

“Seeing these turbines in person really drives home the enormous potential of offshore wind for New England’s power system. As businesses and investors continue to call for greater investment in clean energy, the Block Island Wind Farm demonstrates that this is cost effective and doable.”

Steve Conant, Partner, Project Manager, Anbaric Development Partners:

Steve Conant. Photo by Anbaric

“The tour gave me a glimpse into the future potential of offshore wind in the United States.  A series of wind farms up and down the east coast can be realized with the collective effort of all of us.  Anbaric is looking forward to playing its part as the industry evolves from these first 30 megawatts to thousands of megawatts.”

The path forward

On the cruise out to the turbines, we heard from Bill White, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Senior Director of Offshore Wind Sector Development. Bill shared the Commonwealth’s enthusiasm for the many benefits industrial-scale offshore wind development is soon to deliver. Massachusetts has made the largest policy commitment to offshore wind, agreeing to advance contracts for enough power for more than half a million homes (at least 1,600 megawatts) by 2027. As attendees heard from the tour’s sponsoring organizations, Massachusetts is not without competition from neighboring states. New York, in particular, has stated a commitment to develop 2,400 megawatts of power by 2030 and has its first contract in place for a 90 megawatt project. New Jersey is home to a 1,100 megawatt offshore wind policy, one now Governor-elect Phil Murphy pledged during his campaign to increase. And Maryland has contracts in place with two developers totaling 368 megawatts of generation.

From left to right, Catherine Bowes (NWF), Amber Hewett (NWF), and Kate Plourd Johnson (Northeast Clean Energy Council). Photo by Ryan Conaty

The responsible development of offshore wind power is essential to reaching a clean energy future and protecting communities and wildlife from climate change. It’s also a smart economic decision. The cost has fallen dramatically in recent years due to advancements in Europe, where the industry has been growing since 1991 and employs over 80,000 people. Now is the moment for the U.S. to get in the game – the Block Island Wind Farm can and must be the start of something transformative.

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