America's First Offshore Wind Farm Is Nearly Ready

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Deepwater Wind LLC project off the coast of Rhode Island.

Photographer: Joe Ryan/Bloomberg
  • The 30-megwawatt development to go into service in November
  • Europe has more than 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind

Deepwater Wind LLC is on the verge of completing the first offshore wind farm in U.S. waters, a milestone for an industry that has struggled for a more than decade to build in North America.

Workers have installed blades on four of the five 589-foot turbines at the site off the coast of Rhode Island and construction may be complete as early as this week, according to Chief Executive Officer Jeff Grybowski. The 30-megawatt, $300 million project is expected to begin commercial operation in early November.

“We will finish in advance of our original schedule,” Grybowski said in an interview at a dock on Block Island. “And we are in-line with our budget.”

After years of false starts, the offshore wind industry appears to be gaining momentum in the U.S. The federal government has awarded 11 leases to companies to develop projects along the East Coast, off New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia. This month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill requiring utilities to buy 1,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms over the next decade. And in the coming weeks, New York State plans to release a long-range plan to develop wind farms off the coast of Long Island.

The Block Island wind project comes after an attempt to build a 468-megawatt off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, ran aground after years of opposition from fishermen, American Indian groups and the Kennedy family, whose compound of homes overlooks Nantucket Sound. The Cape Wind project had been in the works for 13 years, when National Grid Plc and Northeast Utilities’ NSTAR unit filed to cancel its power-purchase agreements in early 2015, and has made little progress since then.

Europe, meanwhile, remains far ahead. As Deepwater completes its project 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) southeast of Block Island, developers have already installed nearly 10,000 megawatts in Germany, the U.K. and Denmark alone. On Tuesday, the U.K. approved what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm: an 1,800 megawatt development off the Yorkshire Coast that will cost 6 billion pounds ($7.8 billion).

Deepwater, meanwhile, is planning a larger project of its own: a 90-megawatt plant at a site 15 miles away that would provide power to Long Island. The company is waiting for the Long Island Power Authority to approve a contract to buy power from the wind farm, 35 miles east of Montauk, New York. Deepwater plans to begin construction on the project in 2018 or 2019, Grybowski said. It could be operational in the 2020s.

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