Rhode Island regulators unanimously approved a contract on Tuesday to build the state’s second offshore wind farm. The Revolution Wind project will generate enough energy to power more than 270,000 Rhode Island homes a year. It’s just one of over a dozen offshore wind farms popping up across the Mid-Atlantic in what’s now been dubbed “The Saudi Arabia of Wind.” But some scientists and fishermen say the growth is too much too fast.
Rhode Island led the way in 2016 by building the country’s first offshore wind farm. It was a pilot project, five turbines off the coast of Block Island. Then, just last month, Massachusetts approved a contract to build what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.
And now, with approval from the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, Danish-based Ørsted and Eversource are poised to build up to 50-turbines roughly halfway between the Vineyard and Montauk, New York. The news marks another milestone for Rhode Island’s growing wind industry. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has been one of its biggest boosters.
“That 50 turbine project,” Raimondo says, “will generate enough electricity to power about half of the homes in Rhode Island.”
Rhode Island is not alone. Over the last several years, there’s been a stampede of wind farm proposals, spurred by federal tax incentives, all along the New England coast and as far south as the Carolinas.
While it’s a big moment for green energy, wind development is not without its environmental and economic concerns. Kevin Stokesbury, professor of fisheries oceanography at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, says the wind industry and federal regulators haven’t done enough in the last several years to truly understand how wind turbines will impact fishermen and the ocean’s ecosystem. So now, there’s been a rush to do as much research as possible before development begins.
“It’s time to get going,” Stokesbury says. “I mean these structures are going to be built within a year and that’s very little time to assess what’s going on in [the ocean].”
Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for SeaFreeze Limited, a fish processor in Rhode Island, worries that under the guise of green energy, regulators and government officials will push offshore wind development at a pace that will have drastic consequences.
“Nothing of this scale has ever been done anywhere else,” Lapp says. “And in my opinion moving forward at a breakneck speed is irresponsible.”
Ørsted Co-CEO Jeff Grybowski says these projects have been over seven years in the making and it’s time to build.
“There are only five turbines in the water in the U.S. right now so we’re really not going that fast,” Grybowski says. “In Europe there are thousands upon thousands of offshore wind turbines and in the US we only have five. So I would consider that to be pretty slow at this point.”
Grybowski says he hopes offshore wind will get much larger because “developing clean energy resources is pretty critical for our planet.”
The U.S. Department of Energy says coastal waters across the country could generate more than 2,000 gigawatts of energy from offshore wind turbines. If only 1% of that potential was captured, offshore wind could power nearly 6.5 million homes.