Just 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island in the clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean is Block Island, a 9.7 square mile island home to around 1000 people. Named one of the "The Last Great Places" by the Nature Conservancy, 40 percent of Block Island is set aside for conservation, making the island attractive for tourists. [i] Visitors to Block Island in 2017 will be welcomed by a new green infrastructure project just off the coast of the island: the five towering turbines of America’s first offshore wind farm.
Harnessing the Wind
The harnessing of offshore winds to produce clean, renewable and reliable energy is becoming more and more common across the globe. Because wind turbines use similar design principles and technologies to offshore oil and gas platforms, they can be constructed miles offshore in deep waters. The energy generated by each turbine of the Block Island Wind Farm is transmitted to the mainland through a cable that is buried beneath the ocean floor.
Offshore wind farms are key components of the energy infrastructure in Europe, where approximately 2500 turbines generate power. As well, the European wind farm industry employs nearly 60,000 workers. New technology breakthroughs in the past decade have made building and maintaining offshore wind farms more cost-efficient. With the demand for clean, local energy increasing and the cost of the equipment and technology falling, it is expected that the development of offshore wind farms in the United States will become more common.
The development of wind farms off the coast of the United States will generate thousands of new opportunities in diverse fields like environmental services, marine biology and engineering, as well as in the construction and manufacturing trades. Along with the manufacturing and assembly of the turbines, other important aspects of wind farm projects include mandatory environmental surveys, the modernization of aging industrial ports, and the reworking of roads in order to accommodate the transport of massive turbine components. All of these elements in turn create new public contract opportunities for third-party vendors.
The switch to green and renewable energy sources has been a long process for states in the U.S. In 2004 Rhode Island established their renewable energy standards, establishing a goal of having 16% of the electricity used throughout the state originate from renewable sources by 2019. Although a variety of different sources could be used to generate this renewable energy, it was determined by the designers of the standards that harnessing offshore wind would be the best option for Rhode Island. [ii]
The development and construction of the wind farm is the result of a partnership between GE and Deepwater Wind. Onsite installation of the 30 megawatt, five-turbine system began in 2015, on a site three miles off the coast of Block Island. Each turbine is equipped with a 150-meter diameter rotor and the combined energy output of the five turbines is expected to exceed 125,000 megawatt hours annually. The energy produced by the turbines is very clean: each wind turbine produces 21,000 fewer tons of CO2 over their 20 year lifespan than fossil fuel sources would to generate the same amount of energy. [iii]
Aiding the Community
More than 300 local Rhode Island workers (including welders, ironworkers, electricians and carpenters) were involved in the installation and assembly of the nearly 600-foot tall wind turbines at the Block Island Wind Farm. Installation was completed in December 2016, at which point the wind farm began a 4 month testing phase. Full operations began on May 5th 2017, marking the beginning of the delivery of energy from the wind farm to the people of Block Island and the rest of Rhode Island. [iv]
One local Block Island business has found an innovative way to profit from the offshore wind farm. Starting in the summer of 2017, people wishing to get a closer look at the massive turbines will be able to take a 1 hour ferryboat ride out to the wind farm. During the ride a local wind farm enthusiast will provide guests with a narrated tour, providing additional information about clean energy and the Block Island Wind Farm. [v]
Before the wind farm went online, Block Island’s power was provided by an expensive diesel burning electric plant. Now that the wind farm is providing energy to the island, the price of electricity for the community is expect to drop by as much as 40 percent. [iv]
Just the Start
Following the successful completion of the Block Island Wind Farm, a number of other offshore wind projects are set to begin, including the 1000 megawatt Deepwater One project. This project, located far off the South Fork coast of Long Island, New York, is expected to include more than 200 turbines and will span a site covering 256 square miles.
Now that the winds of change are blowing through the energy industry, many types of businesses are seeing new opportunities emerge from the development and construction of these and other clean energy infrastructure projects.
Kevin McClintock | BidNet.com