When it comes to wind energy, the New England coast is a perfect storm: The wind blows more strongly and steadily here than it does in most parts of the country; relatively shallow waters make for easier turbine installation; and thanks to coastal population density, there is significant energy demand.
Even so, offshore wind power remained unrealized until recently, even as other areas of the world, especially northern Europe, were embracing the technology. That changed late last year, when the first offshore wind farm in the United States went online in the waters off Rhode Island. The Block Island Wind Farm is small, with five 600-foot turbines, but it will generate 30 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 17,000 homes.
It was the first of what could be many offshore wind farms in New England and the Northeast. “Windpower firms are excited to get a foothold here,” says Erin Baker of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Wind Energy Center.
Other projects are already in the works. Early this year, New York’s Long Island Power Authority approved a 15-turbine wind farm that will power 50,000 homes and could be expanded to 200 turbines. In Massachusetts, a proposed wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard would help utility companies meet the requirements of a law signed by Governor Charlie Baker last year. This legislation mandates that utilities procure 1,600 megawatts of the state’s electricity—enough to power 240,000 homes—from offshore wind farms by the middle of 2027. The federal government has leased more than a dozen offshore sites along the East Coast for the potential development of additional wind farms.
Offshore windpower is one of multiple sources of clean energy that can help combat climate change by reducing the need for greenhouse gas–emitting sources of energy. “Wind and solar are part of the solution,” says Erin Baker. When one isn’t available, the other might be. “They complement each other.”