A Breezy Afternoon Boat Ride in Rhode Island Reveals the Promise of Offshore Wind

Our friends at the Chamber for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE) recently arranged to have CRES Executive Director James Dozier and Managing Director Heather Reams take a boat tour of America’s first offshore wind farm, located off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. The 30-megawatt, five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm is owned by Deepwater Wind and began commercial operations in 2016.

Heather Reams and James Dozier

“Besides being impressed with the incredible amount of energy they generate, these turbines are quite an awe-inspiring sight,” said Reams. “They seem much bigger in person, and they are quite majestic-looking.”

Even with the scale of these turbines, Block Island Wind Farm is only the tip of the iceberg. The potential development of more offshore wind farms in coming years could have an astonishing impact. The Revolution Wind project, a new, 400 megawatt offshore wind farm that will be more than ten times the size of the Block Island Wind Farm, was recently selected through a competitive offshore wind procurement process between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Deepwater is also behind this wind farm, and they plan to invest $250 million and employ 800 people.

Next door in Massachusetts, Vineyard Wind placed the winning bid to supply 800 megawatts of offshore wind power to the Bay State. Several other states have ambitious plans in place to grow offshore wind and new American jobs.

“With world-class wind resources, infrastructure, and offshore energy expertise, the U.S. is primed to scale up this industry and lead it,” explained Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “Becoming a world leader for offshore wind will open tremendous new opportunities for U.S. workers, factories, and ships throughout our coastal states.”

Building the Block Island Wind Farm required over 300 local workers, and jobs in operations are needed for the life of the project. A study by the Workforce Development Institute found that 74 different occupations, including electricians, welders, and divers, are needed during the various stages of the planning, development, and operations of most offshore wind farms. Wages in offshore wind energy are generally higher than comparable industries, the study reported.

During development and construction of the Block Island project, related jobs could be found in places like Louisiana where the project’s foundations were manufactured by Gulf Island Fabrication.  Scaling up U.S. offshore wind will provide similar job growth and supply chain opportunities up and down the East Coast—not only in New England. That’s because much of the talent necessary to develop American offshore wind infrastructure can be sourced from the offshore oil and gas supply chain that possesses decades of ocean energy development experience.

The U.S. has already begun to see substantial offshore wind supply-chain investments. When Deepwater Wind built the Block Island facility, it used smaller ships to transport turbine parts. Now Zentech and Renewable Resources International are building a single, larger U.S.-flagged vessel to assist with the installation and maintenance of U.S. offshore wind farms. In South Carolina, Clemson University has formed a partnership with MHI Vestas Offshore Wind, a wind turbine manufacturer, to test and verify the gearbox and main bearings of one of the world’s largest wind turbines, which will be carried out at the university’s state-of-the-art 15 MW test bench.

Our team thoroughly enjoyed seeing Block Island where this new U.S. energy industry is taking off. Considering the countless hours we spend studying and advocating for wind energy policy in Washington, getting out of the office and having the opportunity to actually see clean energy in action was truly fulfilling.

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