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Start of operations for 1st US offshore wind farm marks new era

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Start of operations for 1st US offshore wind farm marks new era

America's first commercial offshore wind farm has begun producing electricity, three miles off of the coast of Rhode Island.

Project developer Deepwater Wind announced Dec. 12 that its $300 million, 30-MW Block Island Offshore Wind project started supplying electricity to the grid after completing its commissioning and testing. The completion and start of commercial operations of the first U.S. offshore wind farm on time and on budget after two years of construction received praise in a news release from Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who said she can now boast of being "the only governor in America who can say we have steel in the water and blades spinning over the ocean."

"We've made history here in the Ocean State, but our work is far from over," Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said in a separate statement. "We're more confident than ever that this is just the start of a new U.S. renewable energy industry that will put thousands of Americans to work and power communities up and down the East Coast for decades to come."

The project's electricity is being supplied to utility National Grid USA via a 6.5-mile undersea cable between Block Island and Narragansett, R.I., under under a 20-year contract that starts at 24.4 cents per kWh before increasing to 46.9 cents per kWh the final year. The start of Block Island's operations comes as electric distribution companies in Massachusetts prepare to meet a new state mandate and solicit for 1,600 MW of offshore wind by the end of July 2027 under 15- to 20-year contracts. However, one of the project's five turbines is offline as it awaits repairs from turbine supplier, General Electric Co., after being damaged during testing when a six-inch drill bit was left in a generator.

Rudy Wynter, president and COO of National Grid's FERC-Regulated Businesses, also welcomed the start of the project's commercial operations in a news release and emphasized the historic importance of it. "We know that transmission is the key to unlocking and delivering the large amounts of renewable power our region needs to meet its clean energy goals, and we look forward to other developing projects that will support that endeavor," said Wynter.

Bradley Campbell, president of the regional environmental advocacy group the Conservation Law Foundation, noted in a news release that Block Island follows the Dec. 7 approval by President Barack Obama's Northeast Regional Planning Body of the Northeast Ocean Plan, which will serve as a regional blueprint for offshore wind development. "This momentous step allows all of New England to follow Rhode Island’s example — charting the course toward future offshore wind development and the conscientious management of all our ocean has to offer," Campbell said.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said in a news release that the official start of the first U.S. offshore wind farm signifies that "from this day forward, our coastal cities and towns need to look no further than their seacoasts to find clean, renewable energy that can be fed directly into their communities."