It's been a rough week for environmentalists in America, but buried amidst a torrent of reports detailing the Trump administration's war on climate science, one uplifting energy story has garnered comparably little attention: The United States may be getting a second offshore wind farm.
Turbines at the Block Island Windfarm, which start generating electricty today. Image: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
On Wednesday, the South Fork Wind Farm, a proposed 90-megawatt (MW) wind energy plant to be built off the coast of Long Island, was granted a power-purchase contract from the state-run Long Island Power Authority. It's a significant milestone for the proposed clean energy project, whose parent company Deepwater Wind is now in a better position to convince investors to finance the wind farm's construction.
If built, South Fork would become the second offshore wind farm in the United States. The first, Deepwater Wind's 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, was constructed last winter, and began feeding electricity into Rhode Island's power grid last month.
"This is a big day for clean energy in New York and our nation," Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said in a statement. "There is a huge clean energy resource blowing off of our coastline just over the horizon, and it is time to tap into this unlimited resource to power our communities."
Grybowski may have a vested interest in bringing offshore wind to America, but he isn't lying about the potential — the US Department of Energy estimates that the United States has a "technical" offshore wind power capacity of 2000 gigwatts (GW), or roughly double the electricity generated by all fossil fuel plants in the United States last year.
Harnessing even a small fraction of that potential, however, has proven extraordinarily challenging. Companies seeking to bring offshore wind power to America have struggled due to a lack of regulation at the state and federal level, as well as fierce pushback from oceanfront communities. Over the past 25 years, European nations have built thousands of offshore turbines in the Baltic and Irish seas. So far, the United States has built five.
But America is now, very slowly, starting to catch up. Even as plans for the Block Island Wind Farm — which powers the 1000-strong community of Block Island, in addition to feeding juice into the Rhode Island grid — were still being drawn up, Deepwater Wind had its sights set on waters off Long Island for a larger, more ambitious clean energy plant.
According to a press release issued by New York State Governor Cuomo's office, the 15-odd turbines comprising the South Fork Wind Farm will sit about 50km southeast of Montauk, and produce enough juice to power 50,000 homes. Mashable reports that the plant will cost roughly $US740 million ($982 million).
A spokesperson for Deepwater Wind told Gizmodo that depending on the schedule for permitting, construction could start as early as 2019, and the wind farm could be operational as early as 2022.
Approval of the South Fork plant comes just two weeks after Cuomo set a statewide goal to develop 2400 MW of offshore wind projects by 2030, the single largest commitment to offshore wind in US history. Massachusetts also passed a bill over winter that will require its utilities to purchase 1600 MW of electricity from offshore wind farms by 2027.
Whether this nascent industry catches on more broadly will depend largely on the energy policies set by the Trump administration. Unfortunately, Trump seems to hold some rather unscientific views on wind turbines, including that they are a disaster for America's bald eagle population, and that they're sending massive amounts of steel into the atmosphere. He has called the turbines within eyeshot of one of his Scottish golf courses "a disaster for Scotland" on par with the Lockerbie bombing.
Still, proponents are hoping Trump will put these somewhat jarring personal biases aside, and consider the manufacturing jobs a booming offshore wind industry could bring to US shores.
Let's hope that optimism is warranted. The other argument for offshore wind — that we need to transition to clean energy to prevent catastrophic climate change — seems to be going absolutely nowhere.