In an important step forward ahead of Donald Trump’s looming inauguration in January, the first offshore wind farm in the United States began operation on Monday. The wind farm consists of five, 560-ft tall wind turbines with blades stretching 240 feet, off the coast of Rhode Island. The wind farm is linked to New England’s power grid by undersea transmission cables. The turbines themselves are connected to the sea floor with steel foundations.
The wind farm will provide just 30 megawatts, which is enough to power roughly 17,000 average US households, and just a small fraction of the power provided by the average coal or natural gas power plant. However, despite providing a relatively small amount of power, the 300 million-dollar Block Island project is notable as the first wind farm in America. The farm has been developed by the company Deepwater Wind, following a number of failed offshore wind farm projects in the US – a number of which faced complaints from wealthy citizens that such a project would ruin their ocean views, including a project near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The small size and location of the Block Island wind farm takes these concerns into account.
Gina M Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island, offered support for the offshore wind project, saying she was proud that her state would be the first to “have steel in the water and blades spinning over the ocean”.
Offshore wind power was thus far failed to gain the momentum in the US that it has in Europe, where thousands of offshore wind turbines already provide clean energy. Europe boasts almost 3,400 total wind turbines, with 114 new turbines connected to the grid in the first half of 2016 alone. Since these wind farms first started operation, the cost of electricity from these turbines has reached a record low.
Despite this progress, the election of Donald Trump has called the future of offshore wind farms into question. Trump has been dismissal of climate change concerns in general, and expressed a negative view of wind farms specifically.
The Block Island project qualifies for a tax credit that amounts to 30 percent of the cost of developing and building the wind farm. The tax credit is slated to be lowered in 2019, and its renewal will depend on support from congress and the incoming Trump administration. Deepwater Wind declined to comment on any problems presented by the insipient administration, although their CEO, Jeffrey Grybowski, has indicated that the offshore industry has other sources to turn to for help, such as tax incentives from states such as Massachusetts.