Will Being First In Offshore Wind Pay Off For Ocean State?

Skimming above the water heading south toward Block Island aboard the Ava Pearl, a high-speed catamaran, in mid-October, a line of offshore wind turbines begins to grow ever-larger on the horizon.

The excitement among the nearly 100 passengers – mostly environmentalists, politicians and union members – is palpable.

“This is a historic moment,” says Sen. Jack F. Reed, D-R.I. “We are going to turn a page in U.S. history. This is going to be the first offshore wind farm in the country.”

Indeed, the five offshore wind turbines off the coast of Block Island have the local, national and international energy sectors abuzz. And it’s largely thanks to one company: Deepwater Wind LLC.

The offshore-wind enterprise, based in Providence, is poised to turn on the 30-megawatt offshore wind farm to power about 17,000 homes in Rhode Island. The small and costly project marks the first in the United States, and comprises five, 6 megawatt turbines with rotors spanning roughly 492 feet in diameter.

The development, about three miles off the coast of Block Island, is expected to come online before year’s end, and marks a historic milestone in a country where 86 percent of electricity generation comes from coal, natural gas and nuclear energy, according to 2015 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But as Rhode Island celebrates being first in the nation – and all of North America, for that matter – the question of whether that status will amount to anything more than temporary bragging rights for the state in a rapidly evolving industry is on the minds of many business leaders and state and local officials.

“We suddenly have a really large market,” acknowledged Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind.

If the market grows at the pace industry advocates project, 30 megawatts could become 3,000 megawatts in a decade, translating into a potential economic boom for the region’s economy.

Such potential growth has leaders in neighboring states already making bets on the industry’s future, and large energy companies are getting in at the ground level, which begs the question: What role will Rhode Island play in the future of offshore wind?

“The state needs to make sure they don’t lose sight of the ball here,” said Charles A. Donadio Jr., president and CEO of Rhode Island Fast Ferry Inc., which owns the Ava Pearl. “They helped jump-start the industry, but why let everyone else take it off to the races?”

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Read the full story at Providence Business News here.

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